Once you hear it, I don’t think anybody forgets the story of Jonah! But once our stubborn prophet goes to Nineveh and starts to preach, we tend to lose interest and so miss one of the important lessons at the end of the book. And that’s what I want to talk about in this blog!
When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the [light of the] sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live." But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” (Jonah 4:8, 9)
So what can we find in this short conversation? First of all, God knew that Jonah had a lesson he needed to learn. Second, He cared enough about Jonah to give him the light and the opportunity (although Jonah may have had a different word for it!) to learn that lesson. And finally, when Jonah still didn’t get it, God carefully pointed out what Jonah was trying so hard to ignore.
And it wasn’t just Jonah. Because God still does the same for us today. He knows exactly where our shortcomings are in life, be it anger, selfishness, stubbornness, or even a strong attachment to the dessert table at potluck. He carefully and lovingly brings us to situations where we can learn the lesson, if we choose.
I think He starts us off easy, giving us the chance to follow His guiding light with a minimum of discomfort. For example, I have never found smoking to be a particular temptation, so that one was easy for me. But not all temptations are so easily ignored. If we fail the first lesson, if we convince ourselves that just once won’t hurt, that everybody’s doing it, decide that the light might just be shining in the wrong place and certainly couldn’t mean ME, then God will place the same opportunity in our path again. No matter how much we gloss over the situation, He always knows the truth behind our cover-up of His heavenly spot light. Jesus said to the Pharisees,
You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. (Luke 16:15)
God wants His children on earth be like Him in words, in thoughts, and in actions. And to make things lightning clear, He wrote His law out on stone with His own finger, then sent prophet after prophet to express the message of what He wanted His people to be. He gave the world the Old Testament scriptures, an inspired manual of How It Should Be Done, then followed it up with the New Testament, How It Actually IS Done.
Now when it comes to reading manuals, some of us are more comfortable with it than others! In my household, I have no problem sitting down with a book on Microsoft Word or the latest cellphone and reading it through from front to back. I learn a lot that way about what’s available and how it all fits together. That’s how I get my light, so to speak.
But my wife? That’s the worst way to learn as far as she’s concerned. “You figure out how it works,” she says, “then come and SHOW me how. Then I’ll know what I’m supposed to do.”
Well, God knew that for some people, reading and understanding the manual called the Bible would be difficult. So in His infinite love, He chose to send Jesus here to be the Light of the World, to SHOW us an example of pure and holy living; to show us How It IS Done. Jesus knew how it all worked, not only because He had helped write the manual in the first place, but because He has been with the Father since before time began.
No one has ever seen God. But God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. (John 1:18)
Couldn’t ask for a better instructor than that, right? It really is amazing that God would do all that, just to win back a world that for the most part, could care less about heavenly things. So just how much does He actually love us?
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Even so, we do have the choice to intentionally not follow the manual, or just ignore the example of Jesus. So what happens then? What if the first “easy” path God offers us doesn’t work for us, and we just choose to ignore the light? Then I propose to you that God loves us enough that He allows our own choices (not His, but ours) to ratchet up our level of discomfort. When Jesus appeared to Saul on the Damascus road, He told Saul “Why do you keep fighting Me? It is hard to kick against the ox goads!”
For those of you who don’t know what a goad is, it’s a long rod that was used by plowmen to keep their animals moving in the right direction, especially when the animal wasn’t really interested in doing so. It has a metal point on one end that was intentionally kept sharp and pointy by the use of a file. And I’ll let you guess what the point was used for! Shamgar knew how to use an ox goad – the book of Judges says that he used one to dispatch 600 Philistine soldiers. So yes, it can certainly get your attention.
I don’t believe for a minute that God enjoys seeing His children in distress, any more than a loving father enjoys disciplining his misbehaving child. And I don’t believe that He tries to strike us down in anger when we ignore His desire for our lives. But as I said earlier, God loves us enough to provide every possible opportunity for us to learn His lessons, no matter how difficult it turns out to be.
An Arkansas farmer once took a friend of his out on an errand in his cart, pulled by a rather balky mule. The mule kept stopping in the middle of the road, or heading off in the wrong direction. The farmer hollered, smacked the reins against the mule, flicked him with the whip, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, the farmer stopped the cart, and pulled a big 2x4 out of the back of the cart. Walking up to the mule, he brought the club down hard on top of the mule’s head. Rather dazed, the animal sank down on its front legs for a minute or two before getting back on his feet. The farmer threw the 2x4 into the cart, and climbed back into the seat. “Well - that was might mean of you!” his friend burst out. “How could you treat your old mule that way?” The farmer simply clicked to the mule, who started briskly down the road at last. “Mules are a lot like people,” he finally replied with a wink. “Some days it just takes a bit more work to get their attention...”
I hope and pray that we all start listening more closely to God, and to His will for us. Because I tell ya, my head STILL hurts sometimes… - Dave Fairchild