Tuesday Scripture -Jonah 1:1-3 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
The opening verses of Jonah reveal one of the great thematic elements of the Bible. God interrupts the settled every day of Jonah's life and Jonah must decide what to do. Moses watches his flocks and goes home at night to play with his son and life is settled until one day a bush bursts into flame and a voice delivers the news that he has been chosen to confront the cruelty and injustice of Egypt's Pharaoh. Isaiah is quietly praying in the temple until a vision appears with a message that will criticize and challenge his own people. Jeremiah too receives the unsettling interruption to speak a harsh and unpopular truth to his neighbors and friends. Mary is visited by an angel as she is picking out wedding dresses and planning the seating arrangements for the reception with the news that she has been chosen to bear the Messiah, the son of God.
Which leaves me with a terribly uncomfortable question. Is Jonah free to refuse this mission? It certainly doesn't seem so. God is incredibly demanding and insistent in this story. And this irritates the popular cultural view (popular Christian view?) of a God who is kind, gentle and generally unobtrusive until we invite God in. The lyrics of a popular hymn illustrates this well; 'O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee…' Which is, in the midst of troubling, stressful and demanding times, a valuable and healing way of thinking about God. In the midst of trouble, we find rest. But there is also Jonah's God who does not bring rest, but instead, disturbs our inertia, unsettles him in his comfort, demands risky change. As much as I appreciate the God of shelter (shield, fortress, shade) there is no denying the God who expects and enjoins.
Faith in God is not only about rest and relief and also about action and irritation and that is well, irritating. The story of Jonah illustrates this when in the brief episode from his life that is revealed to us God calls Jonah to go to unfamiliar and even disturbing places, to confront and interrogate his own very natural feeling of vengeance, speak in ways that challenge the status quo (In Assyria) and then learn to live in the new reality that God creates. The power of the Jonah story is that we get to watch, in detail, an illustration of the 'God the potter' metaphor for the life of faith. Many of us are familiar with Isaiah 64 where we read the comforting and encouraging words, 'Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.' But Jeremiah also uses this metaphor for the life of faith and his use is more confrontational, 'Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.' This gives us a beautiful but challenging image of faith. In it both God and the clay (Jonah, us) struggle, wrestle, with and against each other, shaping, perhaps, a new creation. It is hopeful. Its promise is that when we work with instead of against God's insistent interruptions and relentless enjoinders, we are becoming the image of God we were created to be. But Jonah is honest. Faith will not always bring peace. Faith will also trouble us at times.
We allow this story to shape us when we begin to ponder the ways that we have been shaped by God that bring us joy, peace or a healthy sense of satisfaction. How have we seen God's hand shaping us by bringing us through difficult time and situations? We allow this story to shape us when we then move on to prayerfully reflect on the ways and times in which we have resisted. What, even now, troubles us about God's insistent call? Finally, how do we balance in our spiritual lives the natural need for a faith that comforts and heals, and a faith that challenges and provokes?