Flights of Faith

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Sorry this is late and a bit long! Just got back from Hong Kong after a long day of travel with weird time zone technicalities. Honestly though, I just had a hard time digesting Jonah (that was an unintentional fish pun and the last one in the qt, I promise)

I decided to read Jonah because I felt I was running from God’s call. Jonah was someone who ran but then decided to give himself over to God. Or that’s what I thought anyway. First, let me explain my feeling of flight. A lot of who I am now has been a result of my station at Yale—the people, the organizations, and the city. I feel like at the end of this year I saw a way for them to all work together in a Christ-like model. Then, summer came. I was stripped of my community where I know how to be Christian in a way that influences many aspects of my life. At home, I’m back inside my shell. I stay in Indiana over breaks, home of my extended family. It seems I’m never here long enough to establish roots that would help me show my community the Gospel. I’m just a happy Christian face, praying for a change without realizing God might have an answer to my prayers in action hinged on my faith in Him. Then, I went to China and felt a bit guilty for experiencing something I did not know how to make meaningful to my Christian walk (I sort of have a plan now). And even though I might not have been outright running from God, I definitely felt a sense of floating, merely being pushed side to side instead of listening to God’s directions for me. And then I read Jonah. And I realized I need to tackle the Old Testament this summer. I had no clue about what truly happened to this prophet. Like my floating spirit, I preemptively drew out the story, easily and lazily. Most importantly, incorrectly.

Though the colorful storybooks speak of Jonah as a hero, the five-page book of the Bible does not really remember him as such. I thought he ran from God’s call because the community of Nineveh was sinful and dangerous. Actually, Jonah avoided God’s call because he did not want the people of Nineveh to be redeemed, something he knew God’s mercy would provide. What?!?!

(After Jonah reluctantly obeyed and God’s grace saved the people after their commitment to change their ways)

“But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. (Jonah 4:1-3)

How can Jonah be so faithful to God that his prayer provides him escape from a large fish, but his bigotry against the people of Nineveh comes from and perpetuates seeds of hatred? Isn’t there a truer faith than that? Or is it love not faith that I am seeking in Jonah? In the belly of the whale Jonah says, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you” (Jonah 2:9).

I wonder if Jonah sincerely believed he was obeying the Lord as he vowed to do in the next verse or if he does saw this whole operation as more of a sacrifice to God. Samuel warns against that notion saying, “22"Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (Samuel 15: 22). Is Jonah then, like us, when we offer ambulance prayers to Christ? We sacrifice our pride by calling on God, but we avoid acts of obedience that might transform how we come to Christ. Calmer, wiser, and more assured of a God that directs our actions.

Too often, I think we overemphasize and overprotect a personal and isolated relationship with Jesus Christ, acting as if it is the most delicate of fires. As if it can actually be blown out. What is more inspiring and joyful than a savior who died for our sins demonstrating an all loving act of grace (something we see in even non-prophetic hints during OT times)? I want to take that to communities who need it. Communities like Nineveh. I think spreading the Gospel that way can only nurture one’s spiritual development. One is not isolated from another. I also think avoiding God’s call can only lead us to the belly of a whale (where something is obviously wrong) or the heart of a city like Nineveh (where people must have “comfortably” lived ignorant of God’s message and His grace)? In many ways, the latter is scarier than the former. Imagine an apathetic Christian community not drawn to live out their faith in any meaningful way. Everyone’s silence legitimating the deadening of our Gospels, another unwarranted gift from God. Is it even that hard to imagine?

The book ends with a sulking Jonah relaxing in the shade of a vine that God provided. The next day God sends a worm to eat the vine, exposing Jonah to the harsh sun.

10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (Jonah 4: 10-11)

In our lives are we more concerned with what’s making us comfortable, our vines, than whole communities of people in need of the Gospel? Like the miraculous vine that comforted Jonah, God gives us many things redemptive of his message and promise of Grace. While we can never ever match his Grace (nor should we try), I think God’s point was that His grace for Jonah should have inspired Jonah to joyfully proclaim the message for the people of Nineveh. To give them a message they did not deserve. To unselfishly volunteer himself to make their circumstance equal or better than his own by providing them with the opportunity to reclaim their communities and their lives with the message of God. I think our aims should be similar.

Honestly, I don’t know how I am going to implement this lesson yet. I still feel like I am running. Soon, I will be headed to Australia. Another place I am without roots. Maybe though, I am meant to spend the summer rediscovering the Bible and trying to uncover the meaning of texts like Jonah’s from my previous understandings and to allow them to transform my faith in an active way. I am not sure. I am praying about it. Trying to look at other biblical persons who followed God’s will I came across my namesake.

6 "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1: 6-9)

It’s comforting to know that no matter what choices I make God will be with me. I try not to cash that in as a form of cheap grace, but sometimes I am so unsure about the details of my future it is nice to rest my smaller goals in bigger ones: maintaining a Christian lifestyle, being committed to the spread of the Gospel, transforming communities through Christ-like models of justice and love. As I seek answers about choices that will shape the rest of my life, I am joyful to have been pointed in the right direction by the Holy Spirit and thankful that I can continually use it to put me back on track.

Let’s pray for us to be strong and courageous, fulfilling our missions here on Earth, knowing that our faith, God, will be with us wherever we go.


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