Why am I writing My Story? The book in Hebrew scripture bearing my name has been around nearly 3,000 years! It’s not a bad read. And it’s not that I disagree with it. It is about God, creator of earth, sky, sea, and all creatures that walk, fly, and swim (even big fish!). And I get how a patient God wants to save everyone. Even disobedient folk like me. And even those I don’t like (but the Ninevites! Really?)
Here’s the…my problem. The Book of Jonah doesn’t bear a trace of my viewpoint, an echo of my voice. It’s not that I want to rewrite (much less replace) it. (I’ve got pride, but I’m not that arrogant!) But I do want to tell my story…
I heard God’s voice, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and cry out, ‘Repent!’” Jolted from bed, my head ached, my heart raced, my stomach churned! Must have been something I ate. My second thought? Whew, it was a dream…a nightmare! Go to Nineveh? That crowded, noisy place? Or so I’ve heard. And the Ninevites? Those awful people? Or so I’ve heard.
I tried to go back to sleep. Then I heard it. Thunder. Then God’s voice. “Go!” This time, God didn’t say where, so I asked.
“To Nineveh! Must I repeat everything?”
What a sense of humor! I almost laughed, but it wasn’t funny! “C’mon, God! Nineveh? Why there? Why me?” More thunder. And closer. The voice, louder.
“Because I already told you. I want Nineveh to repent.”
“OK, I got that part, but why…”
“You, Jonah? Because I say so!”
“Jonah! Don’t make me come down there!”
I shuffled…ran to my closet. Scratching my head, on my life, I couldn’t decide what to wear. Some days, it’s hard to get it together. Multiply that difficulty by a zillion when you don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. Again (God read my mind), the voice, “Jonah!” “OK, I’m going!”
But I didn’t. And here’s a little (well, it’s about God, so it’s a big) secret. God, as the psalmist says, “fearfully and wonderfully” created us, knows all about us, and, I know from my own experience, talks to us. But God, who loves us and wants our love in return, therefore (here’s the secret!), won’t make us do what we don’t want to do! And I didn’t want to go to Nineveh!
I went in the opposite direction to Tarshish by ship from Joppa. Yes, the psalmist also says, “Where, O God, can I run from your presence?” Nowhere! I really didn’t think I could get away with trying to get away, but, remember, I also knew God wouldn’t make me do what I didn’t want to do!
I got onboard. We pushed off from the dock. I felt free at last, free at last, thank (well, as I was running away, I honestly couldn’t thank God Almighty, so) my lucky stars, I was free at last!
Then I learned something else about God. I could choose not to do what God wanted, but God could be very persuasive in convincing me to change my mind!
Barely clearing shore, a storm rose. Mighty winds. Thirty foot waves. The swells rising and falling so hard we feared capsize! The sailors tossed cargo overboard to lighten the load. I ducked below deck and, mercifully (I was so tired!) immediately fell asleep! But no rest for the weary. The captain woke me up, insisting I pray to halt the storm. “Me? Why me?” (No matter where I go, somebody, God or whoever always expects me to do something!) The captain grabbed my collar (how rude!), hauling me on deck, yelling, “Pray!” I bowed my head, half-closed my eyes, and clasped my hands, but before I could utter a word (I wasn’t sure God would answer me anyway!), I saw the sailors casting lots. Now, I’ve never thought that tossing stones from a cup demonstrated anything more than gravity and random order. But some folk believe that God’s will is revealed. And I was nervous when I heard one of the sailors say, “These lots will tell us who to blame!”
One toss! I couldn’t believe it! That’s all it took and the lots pointed to me! “Who are you?” they screamed. “What did you do to cause this storm? Tell us!” (Why is everyone, God and everybody else, always so demanding?) “I’m running…well,” I admitted, “I’m trying to run away from God.”
The storm grew more furious by the instant. The sailors were terrified (me, too!) and angry, gathering around me, shrieking, “What shall we do with you?” I was resigned to my fate. God wasn’t going to let me go. I threw up my hands. “Toss me into the sea and all will be well.” But they were honorable. Knowing I would drown, they wouldn’t do it. Rather, they rowed mightily trying to get back to shore. But their efforts were useless. Who can withstand the power of wind and sea, especially when driven by God’s breath?
Their strength spent, they stopped rowing. They, I…we knew what was next. They set down their oars. With sad eyes, they tossed me into the sea. Immediately, the storm ceased, the sea calmed. Doomed, I sank deeper and deeper, then lost consciousness.
I awoke! Either that or I was dreaming. But in order to dream, I would have to be asleep, and in order to do that I would have to not be dead. I pinched myself. Ouch! Yes, I was in the land of the living! But where?
All was dark and damp. Wet! I was soaked. And, phew, it stank! And I felt pressure. Heavy, then light, then heavy again…like going down into the deep and rising to the surface, then back again. How could that be?
I prayed, “Out of the depths of my distress, I cry, O God! Only you can help! I ran from you. You chased me, casting me into the sea. I thought I would die, but I’m alive, yet in darkness. Deliver me!”
God heard and answered my prayer! I washed up on the shore. Turning round, I saw a great fish heading out to sea. I was in its belly! Who else but God could do such a thing? Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Thrilled, I headed home. Then, thunder. I could’ve cried, but I should’ve known! How could I think God would or could forget anything? “Jonah, go to Nineveh!” Too tired to argue, much less run again, this time, I went. After a while, I arrived.
Nineveh was a great city. It would’ve taken me three days to walk end to end. And, once I entered the city limits, I could see that everything I’d heard about the Ninevites wasn’t true. They were people. Just like me!
Still, they were foreigners. I was puzzled. Why would God want to save these people? More thunder. “OK, God, I hear you! I’m here, so I’ll do my job!”
Yet even after all I’d been through, I knew God wouldn’t make me do what I didn’t want to do! So, this is what I said: “God, you want me, even though I don’t understand it, to preach to these people? OK, I will do your will, but I will not go throughout the city, but only a day’s journey. I will proclaim your message, but I will not cry out, only whisper. So, only a third of these people and only those with good hearing will have a chance to hear your word, which, I presume, they’ll reject. Therefore, in your righteousness, you’ll have to destroy them! Ha!”
I climbed a hill outside of the city and sat, waiting to see what would happen. Night came. Then morning. Nothing! For much to my shock, the Ninevites repented! And God did not destroy them. I was hopping mad!
The sun rose. The wind, hot and dry, blew. Baked in the heat, battered by the wind, and embittered because the Ninevites escaped judgment, I begged God, “Let me die!” Then I heard a still, small voice.
“Are you angry, Jonah?”
“No, God, I’m not angry. I’m mad!”
“Alright then, you are mad. Is it because I did not destroy Nineveh?”
“What do you think? You know everything! You tell me!”
“My dear Jonah, you are angry…excuse me, mad because a people you did not create, a people who you really do not know, heard my word and repented?”
“Then, Jonah, I wonder, and you tell me. Do you really know me?”