I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2: 1

 

Everyone experiences difficult times and bad days, but no one that I know has ever had one quite like Jonah’s. He had been literally voted off of the boat and tossed into the ocean. Then what might have seemed like a relatively quick end to his misery by way of drowning had turned into a prolonged time of suffering while a giant fish digested him. The depths of Jonah’s despair had a strangely factual element to it, and there were certainly no people around who were going to hear him or who could possibly come to his help. Not only was he at the end of his proverbial rope, but also that tool would have been useless even if he had one with him. This left him with one place to go for resolution and relief or even for the certitude of an end to his misery. He turned to God with a plea for either a merciful end to it all or for the miracle of being saved out of the situation that was surrounding him.

 

Now for Jonah to call out to God took more than a little humility and some real turn about in his heart and mind. The boat trip that Jonah was taking was a journey away from God and from the path that the Lord had clearly determined for him to take. Our lost mariner was fearful and concerned about doing what God had set out for him as his calling and mission; so, it must have seemed to him that there was no way that God would come to his aid. Jonah was the rebellious one, the disobedient child, and the lost soul who had turned away from God in the course of losing his way. Yet, where was he to turn if not to the only ears that could possibly hear him at that moment? Jonah’s faith had been insufficient to trust God enough to take him through the task at hand to conclusion, and he just really didn’t want to do what the Lord told him to do; however, God was faithful to His mission of saving this difficult man and of using him to bring saving knowledge of God’s loving truth to others.

 

The Lord had a plan and a purpose for Jonah. He has the same for everyone on this earth. Almost no one is sent across an ocean to bring the message of the Gospel of Christ to a far off nation; yet, we are all given the opportunity to share our faith with someone who we encounter in our journey through the day. Most of us do not turn away from God in the dramatic manner that Jonah did, but everyone has been rebellious and almost all of us continue to struggle with God and with engaging in His will for us after we come to know Christ. Still, the Lord stays committed to us and to saving us from the deep and the dark places where we have gone. Whether this place of seeming burial that we are experiencing is caused by our own actions or is the result of the way that evil attacks our bodies, minds, and spirits, it is a real and an oppressive place to dwell. Christ desires to save each of us from these times and these places. He will bring relief and restoration to us. He asks us to do as Jonah did by recognizing the need that we have for our Savior. Generally, this recognition of need and of the absence of internal resources to meet it leads to speaking up and sharing the pain that is present with God and with someone else. This leads to vulnerability that is answered in trust of God and of His working through His body, and it may place us on a journey that will be hard and taxing. However, on that journey Christ joins us, and we are taken in faith into the peace that only His presence can provide in this life.

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I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me;

Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2: 1

 

Let’s start with the premise that no one and no situation is beyond redemption. Most Christians would say that this is true. Yet, based upon our words and actions, we don’t seem to really believe it. Jonah’s situation was based upon a sort of double portion of doubt and desperation. He doubted that God’s sending of him to Nineveh was going to serve any good purpose. In fact, he thought that going there would result in nothing more than his own injury and death. Now, as Jonah cries out to the Lord from inside of the big fish’s belly, he was certain that death was the best outcome that he could anticipate. Still, if we examine this story well, isn’t the fish actually an agent of literal salvation? Without God’s appointed fish Jonah would have been drowned. Now, inside of that same fish, he had been alive for three days longer than he deserved.

 

As an aside, there is absolutely nothing normal about the story of Jonah. This entire book is strange, unbelievable, and even otherworldly; and that might be the main point. God’s view of this world is quite different from ours. His approach to things can take us along paths that we would never have selected for ourselves. The Lord is rather singular in His purposes, and I admit that my view of things tends to become divergent from His. This is especially true when the Lord’s desire is for me to say or do something, or go somewhere that I believe to be threatening or that makes me feel uncomfortable. This was Jonah’s problem. God desires that all people would come to know Him in the deepest way possible and that He, in the person of Christ, would rule all of Creation. As we people were given temporary control and management of this world by God, if Christ is to rule it in these in between times, we need to allow Him to rule in our lives.

 

Essentially this is what Jonah was sent to proclaim to the people of Nineveh. He was sent to the most unrepentantly sinful place on earth to speak the truth of God’s righteousness to them in order to grant them the opportunity to surrender to the Lord of their salvation. Jonah was sent to speak the painful truths that could, if accepted and followed, set these people free from the death grip of sin. God knew what Jonah feared. God sent him to care for and to love those people who Jonah despised in order to bring those Ninevites into the presence of the Holy King and to bring Jonah to his knees in humble submission to and total trust of His King. All of us who live in this world can identify Nineveh in our midst. It seems to me that God might be doing with us exactly what He did with Jonah. Christ is sending His people into those fearful places in order that His love, grace, mercy, and truth would be proclaimed. The Lord wants us to set aside our concerns and reluctance and allow His heart of salvation and redemption to speak of His glory through our mouths into the lostness of our world. As I said at the beginning, in Christ’s view there is no one and no situation that is beyond His redemption.