Friday, October 02, 2009

Don't You Care That We Drown?

We left Jonah yesterday as he boarded the boat for Tarshish, attempting to flee from the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel. Off he sails into the sunset, a pleasant cruise towards what was probably Spain. Farewell Jonah.

How does the story continue? 'But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea...' (1:4). Jonah's trying to leave the presence of the LORD, but he can't manage it. God sends a storm, and the ship is in danger. The boat rises and falls in the waves, so high and so low that the ship seems certain to disintegrate. The Perfect Storm, if you will. It gets so bad that they even throw overboard the cargo, the precious goods, the profitability of the ship, lost, because life is more precious than money.

Despite the sailors being seasoned seamen, 'the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.' (1:5) Prayer, the last refuge of the scoundrel? The text suggests that this wasn't a corporate worship gathering, a sing-in and pray-in, but rather an every man for himself praying to his own god, a range of religions and a divergence of divinities.

At this point, there was a gap in the muster roll. Someone was on board but wasn't praying - where was he? 'But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.' (1:5) The Captain goes to confront him and says: "What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish." (1:6)

The captain can't believe that Jonah can sleep like a baby when the boat is being tossed to and fro. All the gods haven't answered yet, all the prayers haven't made any difference - perhaps a concerted effort, with one more man praying to his small-g god will make all the difference. Jonah is roused, and comes on board.

What do you mean, you sleeper? It reminds me of the words addressed to another slumbering voyager: 'Do you not care that we are perishing?' (Mark 4:38). Like the mariners, some of the disciples were experienced sailors - fishing in their boats. Yet the storm was beyond them, frightening them because of its intensity. Both sent by God to display his glory - to turn pagan sailors to call upon the name of the LORD, and to drive the disciples to ask who Jesus is, who can still the storm.

Sometimes it's in the storms that we are more aware of our need, and more willing to cry out to the Lord - after all, when reclining on a deck chair on a cruise liner we're too comfortable. But pitching on a creaky vessel in the stormy sea reminds us that we need help, from the One who made the seas and the dry land, the One who can still storms, the One whose word has power.

Sometimes the storms can be a call for us to come back, to return, to repent. It was certainly that for Jonah. When your ship looks like sinking, will you cry out or be so comfortable that you ignore the danger completely?

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