Jonah's Test of Faith
by Barbara Early
But seeing Jonah in this format--part Biblical, part fictionalized--got me thinking of Jonah’s background, his motivations, and especially his faith. Yes, Jonah was a prophet, but did Jonah really have faith? Was Jonah faithful?
Sure, Jonah believed in God. We often talk about faith as believing in God, and surely Jonah knew that God exists. Jonah talked to God, and God talked back. Jonah was not a man who wondered if God existed. He was a man who knew.
But where did Jonah’s faith fail? It failed when put to the test. It failed when God’s direction opposed Jonah’s natural inclination.
God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Now that’s not exactly the same as God telling you to go to Cleveland, even if you don’t like Cleveland. Nineveh was a big city. But it was also a vicious city. The Ninevites had been brutal enemies of the Israelites for a long time. And God’s direction had told Jonah to not only go there, but to deliver a message of destruction--one that would put Jonah in personal danger.
There is a risk aspect to faith. There’s a risk to believing in a God who differs from what we’d like Him to be, who sees the world differently than we do, and who might have other plans for our lives than the ones we envision.
Jonah’s faith failed because he wanted a different God. He wanted a God who wasn’t quite so gracious, merciful, and kind.
I really don’t get into the philosophy that says it’s OK to believe in any God you want, as long as you believe in God. If an all-powerful God exists--and He does--He has a distinct personality. We cannot mold Him into whatever God we would like, as if one can take God ala carte. It’s up to us to learn who that God is. What pleases Him? What offends Him? We need to discover, not create, God.
There’s an old adage that says there’s two sides to every story, and then there’s the truth. It’s very easy to become so embroiled in our own POV, that we start to assume the way we see the world is the only way. That our POV is the truth.
Jonah saw a world where maybe the Ninevites deserved to die. The theatrical presentation I attended suggested that perhaps the war-like Ninevites had killed Jonah’s father--that maybe there was a personal reason. In Jonah’s POV, the Israelites, Jonah in particular, had served God and deserved to see their enemies destroyed.
But God takes no pleasure in the death of even the wicked. (Ezekiel 33:11) If He did, this world would have long since been destroyed, and the cross certainly wouldn’t have happened.
Jonah’s faith failed because he wanted a life different from God’s plan. There’s no doubt Jonah was a successful prophet. Revivals were sparked wherever he went: the ship after he was cast overboard, and an entire heathen city. It’s sad that Jonah could derive no pleasure from seeing God work through him.
Asking God what He wants to accomplish in our lives is a scary proposition sometimes. And I have to wonder if the times we feel God’s will is so elusive might be because we really fear knowing it.
While I have encountered a person who decided God’s will is always contrary to their own (to the point where she would decide what she wanted to do, and then claimed that wasn’t God’s will because of it. How sad.), God often leads through our own inclinations and the talents He gave us. While we might not always initially agree with His direction, His goal is not to direct us in a way that will make us the most miserable.
We don’t need to fear His will. After all, which turned out to be worse: Nineveh or the belly of the fish?
Question: Have you ever experienced a “test of faith” like Jonah?