God in the Depths of Chaos
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner
- Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh to call for repentance – the archnemesis of Israel.
- Jonah runs the opposite direction
- Complains to God that he knows God will be merciful, and isn’t interested in Nineveh’s redemption.
- His refusal to participate in God’s plan lands him teeming waters and finally at the bottom of the belly of a large fish.
One of the things to keep in mind about the story of Jonah is that it is melodrama – it’s slapstick. The circumstances are exaggerated to a point of ridiculousness. The situation Jonah finds himself in is so sad it’s almost funny. The distance Jonah runs in the opposite direction. The extent to which the sea rages because Jonah is running. The callousness of Jonah toward God’s call to bring a word to Nineveh. The size of the fish that would be so large as to swallow a grown man whole. All are so extreme it’s funny. This is not intended to be an historical account of the prophet’s life, but a kind of parable of what it is like when our lives spin out of control, when chaos gets the best of us. Jonah doesn’t respond to God as we would expect a prophet to do. But in the midst of the ridiculous circumstances and actions Jonah, God’s response remains constant.
I worked with a pastor years ago who would often say, “Sin has its own consequences.” By that he meant that it wasn’t his place to heap shame on someone who already knew they screwed up, especially as a person of faith. It didn’t do any good and it rarely helped someone find their way forward in hopeful, helpful manner.
Jonah knows he screwed up, that his refusal to do as God called him to do in the first place landed him in this God-forsaken darkness, in the belly of a fish. That seems like punishment enough, right? I’m sure it felt like death itself. The question is, given where he’s at, is it too late? Will the consequences of his stubbornness and infidelity toward God be too much for him to find a helpful, hopeful way forward?
Maybe you’re familiar with a place this dark in your own life. It may or not be right now, but our life experience rarely avoids these dark smelly places all together. An addiction that takes over your life. An innocent relationship with someone other than your spouse that turned not so innocent. A fight with a best friend or one of your children that left a chasm so wide it seemed irreparable. And if not you, you’ve probably walked with someone who has. The consequences of these chaotic, disorienting situations leave one wondering the same thing Jonah did. Have I gone too far? Is there any hope?
When circumstances come to this, about all you can do is pray for deliverance, pray for a new way forward. Which is exactly what Jonah does…he prays for deliverance. “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord”. You might think, “Well, finally you thought to pray about this crazy situation you are in, Jonah!”
But his prayer still seems to suggest that this is all God’s fault – “You cast me into the deep…all your waves and your billows passed over me”. Did Jonah forget what brought this episode on?! He’s the one who ran from the call of God. He’s the one who hid in the belly of the boat before he confessed that it was his fault that the seas were raging. He’s the one who told his shipmates to throw him overboard – not God.
And yet, God hears Jonah’s prayer. God shows that God is as gracious and merciful as Jonah feared God would be when he was first called to go to Nineveh. God doesn’t judge Jonah’s bad theology, or his feeble sense of repentance. God looks past the fact that in Jonah’s prayer he says he’ll return to the temple to give sacrifice rather than makes a promise to go to Nineveh where God’s call likely hasn’t changed. God shows that even in the darkest places, the lowest points, the furthest places where God seemingly is, God hears. And God delivers. And God offers another chance to be faithful.
Is there any hope? Yes. Always with this God of ours. From the very beginning of creation, God has brought order out of chaos, light out of darkness, relationship out of isolation, and life out of death. This is who God is. This is the path God calls us to follow, and the life God calls us to live in this Lenten season. All of us have faced circumstances in life where if you didn’t laugh you would cry, and most of us have asked the question at one point or another – is it too late? Have I gone too far? With God, not even the darkest, most chaotic places in the world can keep God from finding us and spewing us back into life. Amen.