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(Part 5)


Today's reading once again brings us to an encounter with destructive waters, as Jonah and the ship he is on were caught up in a furious tempest at sea. God "hurled a violent wind upon the sea, and in the furious tempest that arose the ship was on the point of breaking up." (Jonah 1:4). This happened because Jonah was avoiding God's call for him to preach against Nineveh.

God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach in order to bring that wicked city to repentance. God was showing His mercy. But in the process, God was punishing innocent people, the mariners and everyone else on the boat with Jonah. Favor the bad, but chastise the good? We cannot fully fathom the depth of God's wisdom. We can only rest on our conviction that He is just and righteous. God will accomplish His purposes, many times not according to our human wisdom and ways.

See what happened.

The mariners, frightened by the violent storm, cried to their gods (Jon 1:5). Jonah told them "I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." (Jon 1:9). Ultimately, the mariners also cried out to the true God (Jon 1:14). They acknowledged: "you, Lord, have done as you saw fit." (Jon 1:14). They were "struck with great fear of the Lord" (Jon 1:16a). Finally, they "offered sacrifice and made vows to him" (Jon 1:16b). Wow! Such conversion of pagans! And founded on truths that took Job much discussion with his friends to realize: reverential fear; God acting according to His own sovereignty; acknowledgment of His power and control over nature; realization that their lives were entirely in His hands. Such deep conversion could not have happened if not for the calamity that was upon them!

Notice in particular Jonah 1:16. "Struck with great fear of the Lord, the men offered sacrifice and made vows to him." Reverential fear is our proper posture before God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov 1:7a). Such awe of God in His majesty--seeing His control of the forces of nature, causing a furious tempest and then abating its raging--is the foundation of rightly relating to Him. Awe leads to worship. Awe leads to living out our covenant with Him.

It is worthy to note that basically the same thing happened to Jesus' disciples, in the incident of the calming of the storm at sea (see Mark 4:35-41). Storms get our attention, and put us in the proper posture of helplessness which leads to humility. Then we experience the awesome power and majesty of God, which brings us to faith and worship.

There is more. The mariners and Jonah were made to suffer, but their suffering resulted in Jonah finally surrendering to God's will. Jonah himself spends three days in the belly of a large fish. There he turned to God in his distress, and acknowledged Him once again. He preaches in Nineveh, causing the sinful city's conversion. Suffering is redemptive--for oneself and for others. And redemptive suffering paves the way for one's being used in the power of the Spirit to evangelize and bring about conversion of sinners. Notice how powerful Jonah's preaching was. Jonah himself was not a seasoned prophet but was quite reluctant, even fleeing from the Lord's command. Nineveh itself was very wicked. Jonah had just preached for a single day but the whole people and the king repented.

The majesty of God, redemptive suffering, awe of God, being humbled by the circumstance around us outside our control, the mercy of God--all these are the lessons contained in this very short story of Jonah. We cannot fully know the ways of God--why He allows Satan to severely afflict Job, why He afflicts the mariners in order to bring Jonah back to His plan, why He allows typhoon Ondoy to afflict His beloved people especially the poor. We can only be in awe of and humbled by His divine majesty. We can only trust in His justice and righteousness, and that He is in control and nothing happens just by chance. God is about His divine purposes, and is committed ultimately to the good of His people.

Let us make Jonah's prayer our own. When affliction comes, when the flood envelops us (Jon 2:4), when the waters swirl about us, threatening our lives (Jon 2:6a), when we are down deep in the pit, with the bars of the nether world seemingly closing behind us forever (Jon 2:7), let us turn even more fervently to God and be confident in His help. "Out of my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me; from the midst of the nether world I cried for help, and you heard my voice." (Jon 2:3). When our soul is faint within us, when we are ready to give up, when we start to blame God, when we are weary and hopeless and helpless, let us immerse in prayer, confident that God hears and helps. "When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; my prayer reached you in your holy temple." (Jon 2:8).

Finally, let us reexamine our lives. What do we hold important? What are our priorities? How much do we pursue the idols of money, power, pleasure? (As many experienced with Ondoy, possessions and the treasures of a lifetime can be swept away and destroyed so easily). Do we find our comfort and security in such idols? "Those who worship vain idols forsake their source of mercy. But I, with resounding praise, will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay: deliverance is from the Lord." (Jon 2:9-10). When we turn to God, when we worship Him, when we live out our covenant, then we will receive His divine mercy. Then He will deliver us from our afflictions.

When Job had learned the lessons, God restored him and blessed him twofold. When Jonah had learned the lessons, God "commanded the fish to spew Jonah upon the shore." (Jon 2:11). Then he moved on to become a blessing to Nineveh. When we learn the lessons of Job and of Jonah, then we will experience the fullness of the deliverance of God and His divine mercy, and will be used by Him as effective instruments of evangelization.

There will be floods, there will be afflictions, but God is always there in the midst of the tempest. When we know our place, when we are faithful to our call and live out our covenant, even us we do not fully understand the ways of God, then we will experience the justice and righteousness of our God.

God bless you all.

(October 05, 2009)

"For to me life is Christ, and death is gain." (Phil 1:21)

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