As a young church going God fearing child, I was told the story of Jonah. His disobedience landed him in the belly of a whale for three days. When he finally confessed his sins, cried out to God to be saved from his wicked ways, God showed him mercy, and he was spit out on the shore. Jonah, now fully understanding the repercussions of his actions headed to the city of Nineveh. He preached to the wicked, hateful people telling them to walk away from their sins and serve God or they will regret it. It was like a light of truth hit them right in the eyes. They turned from their wickedness, gave their lives to the great almighty God and everyone lived happily ever after. The End.
I don’t know how many times I was told this story but its underlining message was woven through the details of all my childhood bible stories.
If you stay pure, if you can be white as snow and never turn from the commands of the God almighty you are safe. Have a question, turn from your church, don’t read your bible every day, and you are in for the wrath of Gods anger.
So I walked the line placed out in front of me. One step on either side and I was scared. Every time my bank account is low, I immediately ask where is my sin and why can’t I stay true to Gods rules. When I lose my temper, I look for the hate in my life that I am holding onto because hate leads to anger and anger leads to more sin.
It has taken so many hours of soothing my soul to realize that there is beauty in the bible if I can disassociate from my childhood lessons and let the larger picture painted by the writer come into focus. It hasn’t been easy, and there are stories I haven’t even taken the time to look at yet. However, the story of Jonah, this fish, and the city of Nineveh just keeps showing up. I keep running into it somehow.
So, I read the book. Fun things happen when you step away from something you have always known about a story and read it for yourself from a different perspective. You could walk away with a better understanding of the whole blessed thing.
First, I realized the story doesn’t end when the sinners repent and have fallen at the feet of God. Nope, not even close. It ends with Jonah throwing a fit because God forgave the very people that had been causing years of pain and suffering for the Israelites.
Second, I realized the people group Jonah was sent to talk to was not solely drunken party goers dancing naked in the streets. This may have just been my little brain combining two bible stories, but the felt board images lead me to believe Sotam and Gamora along with all of Nineveh were nothing but drunks, druggies, and sex addicts. They were in fact bullies. They showed up one day with bigger guns and took the land that wasn’t theirs. They starved, abused and enslaved human beings. There may have been nothing good about them, but what they were doing and what I thought they were doing in Nineveh clearly, didn’t line up.
Third, I realized the story isn’t about the fish.
Let me see if I can retell this story from my new perspective…
The heart of the Divine was pained as he watched the human race turn on each other. Knowing that they were blind to his love for them, and longed for something to change. He sends the Spirit of Truth to a dear soul that has been a constant seeker of the Divines love. Jonah, sadly, didn’t like the idea of taking the message of love to the very people that had been causing the Israelites so much pain for so many years. So, like most of us do when we don’t like an idea we come up with a new one. Jonah headed the opposite direction. He hoped this would work. He even tried to sleep through the angry storm. The men giving Jonah a ride on their boat had no faith in the God of love, but that didn’t stop them from crying out for help when the storm got so bad they thought they were going to die. Jonah told them it was his fault they were in this mess. He had run from his calling, and they should throw him overboard. This is the first time Jonah is willing to die rather than tell the people he hates about Gods love. However, he survives the storm nicely tucked inside a fish. (A little bit of mystery in a story makes the story interesting, but should never become the story itself) Jonah exhausted from running away and a little bit baffled by the way things have worked out heads to Nineveh. I may be wrong here but I feel like there is just a little arrogance and “I’ll show you, they won’t listen” stomping of the feet here while Jonah heads into the City. The whole story comes to a head when Jonah stands up and tells the people, who have been brutal to this community, that God loves them too. Everyone, EVERYONE needs to know they are loved. When Jonah tells them this, they are full of joy and weep for they have found worth in their existence through the love of the Divine. They ask for forgiveness of the Israelites, for the years of all the pain, they have caused. They wear the clothing of repentance and change their behavior to reflect this new love. Then Jonah is angry because he doesn’t want to forgive them and once again would rather die than live peacefully with these people.
I was blindsided by this story once I realized it wasn’t about that fish. It wasn’t about being punished if you don’t follow the rules and it wasn’t about happy endings.
From this perspective, this story is calling me to ask the question, “Are you willing to live in love with the Divine, Love and the people who have wronged you?”
Can you forgive them and accept that they are loved in every way that you are?
Can you admit that the creator of their soul loves them in every profound and passionate way that he loves you?
Can you live in that kind of love?
I’m working on it.
May you stand with me and see that this story has many lessons just like life does. May you be willing to look deeper and find the uncomfortable truth of love and how when we sit in pure unbiased love we don’t have to agree with the actions of other people. We only have to acknowledge that they are people too.