1 Corinthians 7:25-31
We all know about Jonah, the reluctant prophet who booked himself an ocean cruise and had a whale of a time! Or do we? Sadly, this is about all many people do know about Jonah, and that is wildly inaccurate anyway. Those who insist on the literal inerrancy of Scripture have had to resort to ever more fanciful arguments to support their case, yet even here in its setting among the OT prophets it clearly shows up as an allegory. Nineveh of course was real enough, a militarily powerful city-state, hated and despised by Israel which had suffered greatly under its ruthless tyranny, whose religious and moral practices were seen as an “abomination” to Israel’s God. The story of “Jonah” tells of Nineveh repenting, but in actual historical fact there is no indication that it ever did, even briefly, and certainly not at the word of some third-rate Hebrew prophet! No, like all the other superpowers which marched across the stage of ancient times it continued on its merry way until it collapsed under the weight of its own pride and arrogant disregard of God and everyone else.
So then, what is this book about? Well, it starts with God telling Jonah, “Go to Nineveh and proclaim My message of hope for those who acknowledge and repent of their sin.” What? NINEVEH? No way, Lord, that’s not possible: Nineveh will never change – besides, I don’t want to see them forgiven; they don’t deserve it, as You well know! But God is very persistent, and after a number of creative attempts to flee God’s call, and after being swallowed and vomited up by a great fish, Jonah, like Shakespeare’s whining schoolboy, “creeps like snail unwillingly to” Nineveh (having first no doubt had a shower and changed his clothes) and proclaims God’s call to change. And would you believe it, everybody repents, even the livestock, and God cancels the execution order!! But is Jonah pleased? No way! “You’ve made a fool of me, God! I knew that’s what you’d do; I needn’t have gone to all this trouble to come here anyway!”
We Christians have founded our faith on the fact of Jesus Christ God’s Son coming so that whoever puts their trust in Him might have eternal life – be radically changed from the inside out. But up against that we find ourselves with an ingrained subconscious belief that things don’t ever really change. In fact, we’d almost rather they didn’t. We complain about it, about people, wish they were different, yet somehow we are quite comfortable with the good old status quo. We know where we stand, where everything fits. We know, for instance, that alcoholics can never be cured, that some people are born with certain social attitudes that are fixed in their minds like concrete. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”; “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” And if God sticks His oar in and stirs up all our preconceptions, it scares the socks off us!
Jonah thought he had faith, that he knew exactly what God would or would not do. But he got surprised – by God. Perhaps that is what faith is – the willingness to be surprised, even shocked, by the unexpected intrusions into our lives of God’s love and power to change – change even us – if we will let Him.
I came to call sinners, not just the righteous;Deirdre Browne
I came to bring peace, not to condemn.
Each time you fail to live by my promise,
Why do you think I’d love you the less?”