What is God really like? Can we fit God into a box? For instance, can we make God ‘our God’ but not ‘their God’? How do we respond when it seems like God does not do as we think God should?
As we begin 2023 as a community, we are going to take four Sundays to look at the story of Jonah (beginning on the 8th January as we do not have a service on New Year’s Day).
Maybe one of the first things that comes to mind for you with Jonah, is a great fish or whale. Well, I encourage us to not get stuck at the point of debating what kind of aquatic creature could swallow a person whole and yet that person survives.
Jonah – described as a prophet elsewhere in the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament of the Bible) – see 2 Kings 14:25.
Jonah – who Jesus referred to at one stage in his teaching (see Matthew 12:38-41).
Jonah – called to go and preach a message of repentance (turning around from wrong ways) to the people of Nineveh.
Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Assyrians, seen by people like Jonah as the enemy and worshippers of false gods. Historical evidence does show that the Assyrian rulers could be very cruel and barbaric in their treatment of other nations they invaded.
As a prophet, Jonah might think God would call him to declare how terrible the Assyrians are but from where he was living. Yet to actually go to them? Really, God?
Tim Keller in his book about Jonah called ‘Prodigal Prophet’ writes,
“When the real God – not Jonah’s counterfeit- keeps showing up, Jonah is throwh into fury or despair. Jonah finds the real God to be an enigma because he cannot reconcile the mercy of God with his justice.”
Jonah does a runner. A ‘runaway rebel?’ Well let’s take a look together and see.
Maybe you are thinking, ‘Hold on this story is from centuries ago – is there any relevance?’
Well I think how we view God is crucial for our well-being and influential in how we live, including the way we treat others. For instance, let me quote again from Tim Keller:
“The book of Jonah yields many insights about God’s love for societies and people beyond the community of believers; about his opposition to toxic nationalism and disdain for other races; and about how to be “in mission” in the world despite the subtle and unavoidable power of idolatry in our our own lives and hearts. Grasping these insights can make us bridge builders, peacemakers, and agents of reconciliation in the world. Such people are the need of the hour”
Are such things really there, in these short four chapters penned long before Christ? Well, let’s take a look together and see.
God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. Are we all open that the Lord might want to point us towards something in these months ahead? Is that even possible or just a wishful thought?