I teach a high school class at my church on Wednesday nights, and as you can imagine it’s challenging getting a group of teenagers motivated to study the Bible after a long day at school. To their credit, and although they’re tired and a little bit cranky, they show up with a good attitude and ready to learn. What they probably don’t understand is that it’s equally challenging for me after a long day at work! As a result – for their benefit and for mine – I have tried to keep the classes somewhat informal and discussion-based, with unique and thought-provoking topics.
It’s not surprising that the two discussion topics which generated the most enthusiastic discussion were “Dinosaurs in the Bible” and “Jonah and the Whale.” We’re all fascinated by the thought of dinosaurs roaming the earth (and just how did Noah fit them on the ark?), and of course the supernatural element of Jonah’s story is an irresistible hook. In the case of Jonah, of course, is helpful not to get bogged down in the miraculous aspects of the story. Although it is fun to hypothesize the physical means by which Jonah’s story came to pass, they are not of fundamental importance. Rather, it is more profitable to examine the lessons we can learn from Jonah’s poor decision.
Jonah was instructed by God to travel to Nineveh, and yet Jonah headed in the exact opposite direction toward the southwest coast of Spain – at that time essentially the end of the known world. God found Jonah, of course, and set him back on the right path, albeit through unconventional and emphatic means. This story brings to mind a valuable lesson about the inescapable reach of God. For whatever reason we choose to justify our flight in the direction opposite to God’s path, be it fear (in case of Jonah), stubbornness, or blatant rebellion, it is indefensible and ultimately futile.
I have often thought about Jonah’s flight as a metaphor for the direction our country has chosen. Jonah made it about 2,000 miles in the opposite direction from God’s chosen path before God produced a very sudden and scary wake-up call. I wonder: how far will God allow the United States to travel in its current direction before the tempest?