Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jonah's Test of Faith

by Barbara Early

Last week I had the opportunity to see Jonah at Sight and Sound in Lancaster, PA. The theater is noted for bringing the Bible to musical theater, and busloads of tourists come from all around. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip. They do a marvelous job.

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 Jonah took it one step further. He knew God, understood his character. In Jonah 4:2, Jonah recounts the reason for his fleeing to Tarshish when he was supposed to go to Nineveh. He said “for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.” That’s a pretty good assessment of God in a world where many believe God is watching, waiting for them to slip up, so He can crush the sinner.

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.

Jonah’s faith failed because he wanted a God who saw the world as Jonah did. In short, he wanted God to hate Nineveh.

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?


  1. not like Jonah's!

    Sight and Sound is an incredible 'destination'. I went once by bus tour and never saw so many buses in one parking lot before.

    I think i've failed to consider the depth of reasoning behind Jonah's rebellion. I consider it a practical conversation - Listen God, those people are just not worth my time and you know it so I'm going to take a detour....WHAT? Okay, I'm going. I'm going already.

    Maybe it was more than just apathy, maybe it was fear. You've really made me think. And fear of what - Fearing loss of control or fearing death?

    thanks Barb. I love our Faith posts because they make me think. Ouch!

  2. I think we all have tests of faith. One challenge of having an omniscient God is that He always knows best. It's really hard for me to remember that sometimes.

    Did your bus tour go to Shady Maple Smorgasbord?

  3. This post reminded me of a story idea that's been floating around in my head for at least ten years about someone with an amazing spiritual gift who doesn't really understand it. Hmm...

  4. "Jonah's faith failed because he wanted a life different from God's plan." That "ow" you hear is me. I need to submit to the Lord and man am I stubborn.

    Tests of faith, oh yes. Our God is so patient, isn't He?

  5. Susie--

    I thought the "ow" was an echo of my "ow" from writing that. Submission is just not a natural human trait, I'm afraid.

  6. Barb, the video wasn't working for me this morning so I'm glad I came back! lovely song.

    No I think we went to something with a more kountry kitcheny name. Can't recall but that doesn't sound famiiliar. We had family style food including those buttered noodles I like and shoo-fly pie!

    "IF I could see the world the way God sees it, I'd serve Him more faithfully." wow.

  7. I didn't know the video wasn't working earlier. As I was writing the post, only a fragment of the lyrics popped into my head, and I couldn't even remember where I'd heard it. So I had the hardest time finding that song. It really seemed to fit, though.

  8. Wow, Barb. Thanks for making me think and dig deep.... I'd love to see that Jonah show.


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