Have you heard of Jonah in the Bible? Before you leave this page because you think you know the story, did you know Jonah was suicidal?
There's a popular belief that being a Christian means we should be living exceptionally blessed lives. A belief that simply believing in God will open up the heavens and solve every problem. While God can solve every problem, not everything has a simple solution. Changes almost always come after a period of suffering.
There's also a belief that once we become Christians we are expected to stop sinning completely and anything less than perfect is simply, no good.
Here’s a few examples I’m sure you’ve heard:
If you get drunk, you're not a Christian.
You can’t be a Gay Christian.
If God was real, all Christians would be wealthy.
You can’t have sex before marriage and still be a Christian.
If you swear, you're not a Christian.
If you smoke, you're not a Christian.
If God was real, Christians wouldn't die from sickness or disease.
You can’t be angry and still be a Christian.
You're not really a Christian if you have tattoos, especially if you get them AFTER becoming a Christian.
You must dress modestly or you're not really a Christian.
If you're depressed, you're not a good Christian.
You can’t sin and still be a Christian (Yes, someone actually said this to me on social media!).
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
While change may be complicated, salvation is not. There's no rules on who can be saved.
Am I condoning everything the Bible says "not to do"? Of course not. God clearly outlines how His people should behave. That said, are any of us perfect? No. We’re perfected in Christ but we begin just as we are. We are also inherently flawed without God but He is patient and full of grace.
There is nothing, not one thing, we could ever do that would ever make Him stop loving us.
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The Age-Old Question
"So if God loves Christians so much, why are so many of them suffering?" -says, the world.
When we become Christians, we are "born again". We really do start out like babies. We test the waters. We figure out what's wrong and what's right. Just because someone says they're a Christian doesn't mean that they're suddenly wise or altogether perfect. We're all in this process of learning and growing together and that takes time. Lots of time.
Of course, no one wants to hear this, but we need to start taking responsibility for our sin. It's time to own it. It’s easy to look at someone else’s life and say, “Well, your life is hard because God is teaching you a lesson”. What we don’t see, is the disobedience in our own hearts that God wants us to correct.
We rarely, and I’m guilty of doing this too, consider that our own actions have caused some of the grief we’re experiencing. We're too busy looking at the problem and being mad about it to consider what the cause could be. That reasoning doesn't apply to all situations but it certainly does to most.
Have You Heard of Jonah?
Oh, Jonah. He got himself stuck in a stinky, slimy (are whales slimy?), dark-bellied whale on account of his disobedience to God. Depending on how you look at it, the whale really did save Jonah's life but I'll bet he didn't see it that way.
Who Was Jonah?
Jonah was a Hebrew man and it says he, “feared the Lord”. By all Biblical standards, Jonah was a Christian. Being Hebrew, he would of also known and obeyed "the law". In modern times, we might call him a "Good Christian". On the outside, Jonah was a man of God but on the inside, he had bitterness holding him back from doing God's will.
What Happened to Jonah?
What in the world did Jonah do that was bad enough to get himself swallowed up by a whale? And did his disobedience make him no longer a Christian? Did God not love Jonah?
"The Lord spoke to Jonah son of Amittai: 'Nineveh is a big city. I have heard about the many evil things the people are doing there. So go there and tell them to stop doing such evil things.' But Jonah tried to run away from the Lord. He went to Joppa and found a boat that was going to the faraway city of Tarshish. Jonah paid money for the trip and went on the boat. He wanted to travel with the people on this boat to Tarshish and run away from the Lord."
It's possible that Jonah fully intended to listen to God but changed his mind on the way. I mean, can you imagine asking for directions to a dangerous city?
"Excuse me sir, I need to go to Nineveh, can you take me there?" says, Jonah.
The boat driver says, "Nineveh, are you kidding me? That place is awful! They'll probably murder you, you would be crazy to go there!"
This happens to us too. We start out with good intentions, planning to follow God's lead but then someone comes along and says, "Are you crazy?!" and we change our minds.
Did Jonah Question God?
It says, “The Word” spoke to Jonah. We know from the Bible the Word is the Holy Spirit.
Which means the Holy Spirit talked to Jonah and that was how he received God's instruction.
One way the Holy Spirit talks to us is by feeling. We might feel, “I think that person needs me to pray for them” or, "That wasn't a nice thing to say, I should apologize".
I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure I’ve disobeyed “that feeling” more times than I can count. Sometimes it’s out of fear or disbelief that it was really God (And not my own thoughts). Sometimes, like Jonah, I thought the person didn’t deserve mercy.
Yeah, we’re gettin’ real now. Owning our sin!
WHAT DID JONAH DO?
Jonah ran away. He ran away and he got on a boat to a place that was the opposite way from where he was supposed to be going. Literally, the opposite. He started in Gath-heper (2 Kings 14:25), was supposed to go to Nineveh (Jonah 1:2) but instead tried to "flee" to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3).
Check it out on the map!
I wonder where Jonah thought he was going to go to get away from God? Maybe he thought God would just leave him alone. I would bet you know some people who've been "running from God" and yet, they've been blessed their whole lives.
Have you ever wondered, why? How come they can get away with sinning and not me? If we dwell on those thoughts long enough it creates bitterness in our hearts, much like Jonah had.
The reason why, by the way, is because they're still God's children. They were created in His image to do good things. They're blessed with the same gifts from God that we are and not listening to God doesn't get rid of those gifts (Thank goodness!). So stop worrying about their sin and focus on your own.
WHAT WAS GOD'S REACTION?
On account of Jonah’s disobedience, God sent a storm that raged enough to rip the boat he was on into pieces. The men on the boat were terrified. They asked Jonah, “Who are you? Why did you bring this storm to us? Tell your God to make it stop!”.
Jonah, who you'll notice has some major suicidal tendencies, knows immediately it's his fault and says they need to throw him overboard and the storm will stop.
Yet, the men didn’t throw him out. They didn’t want to be responsible for his death. Pretty nice guys, actually. But try as they might, the men couldn't get back to the safety of the shore without giving Jonah to God to face the consequences of his choices.
Which tells me a couple things. When life is rough and we’re in a storm of our own, there’s only three ways we could of gotten there:
We’re caught in someone else’s storm.
We're in a storm of our own disobedience.
God is using a storm from the enemy to bring something out of our character and develop our faith.
Have you ever wondered why you're in turmoil? Have you considered your own sin may have played a part in creating it? Would a self-sacrifice, stop the storm?
Jonah Gets Swallowed by a Whale
Jonah sacrificed himself and allowed the men on the boat to throw him into the ocean.
Then, things got worse.
He was swallowed by a whale.
I wonder if Jonah ever looked back and laughed at the irony. I'm sure at that point Jonah was thinking, "God, what are you doing to me?! I just admitted my mistake and allowed those men to throw me to my death and now I'm going to rot in a whale?!"
But God had more for Jonah to learn. He needed to humble himself and submit to God's will. Jonah sacrificed his life but his attitude still hadn't changed.
When Jonah repented for his disobedience, the whale spit him out onto the shore. He went to Nineveh like he was supposed to and the people were saved.
Hallelujah! Except that Jonah was super mad about it.
Jonah didn’t think the people of Nineveh deserved God’s mercy and he didn’t want them to have it. In fact, even after all that, Jonah was still holding onto hope that Nineveh would still be destroyed.
Is there anyone or anything in your life you feel that way about? (Ahem. Just asking- we're owning our sin, remember?).
Jonah gets suicidal and depressed again. He literally goes to sulk outside of the city where he can watch what God will do. At this point, he still doesn't really believe God wants to save the people of Nineveh. Maybe he thought if he pleaded with God enough He would change His mind and destroy the city after all.
Once again, Jonah's disobedience caused trouble for him.
"Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered."
I would just like to point out God continued to extend mercy and patience to Jonah, the very religious sinner. Even though he did eventually obey God, his heart stayed bitter.
The Moral of the Story Is...
Salvation is simple. Change is not.
Jonah went from obedience to disobedience over and over again. He was eventually willing to go to Nineveh but even when he got there, he wasn't willing to accept what God wanted to do.
How often do we do this in our own lives? We want to be obedient but we don’t follow through on what God really wanted from us.
You would think Jonah would of learned his lesson in the belly of that whale but like so many of us, he didn’t. We go back and forth, following and resisting God’s plans for us. And like Jonah, we look at what’s wrong in someone else’s life before we see what’s wrong in our own.
If there’s a storm in your life, I encourage you to step back and examine how it may have gotten there.
Ask God if there’s been a time or a place you’ve been disobedient. Is there lingering sin in your heart? Is there a person you need to throw off your ship to allow them to deal with God? Maybe your faith is being strengthened or this is the beginning days of a ministry in the making [Related: Your Mess is Going to Make an Awesome Ministry].
No one knows the ways of God without asking. We have to ask.
Jonah's Story Wasn't Over
I wish the book of Jonah was longer. It seems to be cut off before the story's finished. What happened to Jonah? Did he learn his lesson? Did he repent? Did he give in to his (clearly very overwhelming) bouts of depression? There's no mention of Jonah after Nineveh.
If we learned anything from his experience, he's left us with this:
We're in no place to question God’s mercy or goodness. In fact, we should stop worrying about what other people are doing and worry about our own relationship with God. If we love Him, we need to do our best to be obedient to what He's asked us to do.
All God has ever really asked us to do is love Him and others. Which tells us, if we continue to walk in love and obedience, we'll walk right out of the storm we're in.