“You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas, and the current overcame me. All your breakers and your billows swept over me. But I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight, yet I will look once more toward your holy temple.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been in the midst of a mess and thought or said, “Why God?” That’s not an uncommon reaction to tough situations. Now, it could be simply that we are crying out like that because we genuinely don’t understand why things are happening like they are. But, in the midst of hard times we can’t easily explain, God is a convenient target for our accusations. This natural reaction is sort of what we see on Jonah’s lips here.
Minus all the theological problems with it, it’s actually pretty useful to blame God for all the problems in our lives because He doesn’t often talk back. We can lay everything right at His feet and brush our hands off as we walk away. And here’s the thing: He doesn’t seem to ever talk back. He doesn’t defend Himself. He doesn’t contradict us. Nothing. He just takes it. And we don’t ever see Him so it’s easy to forget about it—and Him—once we’ve done it.
The thing is, though, unless our situation is exactly akin to Job’s—and just so there’s no confusion, it’s not—God isn’t actually to blame for any of our problems. He never is. Given that, how much do you think blaming someone else for your problems—especially the wrong person—is going to contribute toward solving them? Yeah…not at all.
This is all why I find Jonah’s words here really interesting. Think with me for a minute. Jonah was in a rough spot. There’s no question about that. Being carried around in the belly of a giant fish is about as low as you can go. This is exactly the kind of situation that for most of us demands a perpetrator we can blame for it. Now, if we’re going to be honest, it would be better to face fully up to reality and do something about that than wallow in self pity and blame someone else, but we’re being realistic here, not idealistic.
In any event, how did Jonah find himself cast into the sea? Whose fault was it that he was thrown into the depths? Well, most directly, it was the fault of the sailors who did it. But they only did it because Jonah told them to. And, while Jonah perhaps did save their lives by doing that, as we talked about a few weeks ago, his willingness to accept that solution likely had more to do with his commitment to not doing what God had told him to do than it did any kind of feelings of altruism for the sailors.
So then, was this God’s fault like Jonah seems to suggest here? Well, God was the one who sent the storm. But, we know God is just and would not have been after these sailors’ lives for Jonah’s sin. If the storm was really as bad as the text makes it sound (and we don’t have any reason to doubt that), it is a mercy that the ship didn’t break up and sink at any point before Jonah got tossed overboard. It is a mercy that the storm suddenly stopped once Jonah hit the waves too. No, blaming Jonah’s situation on God falls pretty flat when you think about it as well.
The bottom line here is that Jonah was in the situation he was in because of the choices he made. In other words, this was all his fault. And yet, he casts himself as a kind of suffering servant in the mold of Job who was so faithful that he was willing to look up to God even though God was the one who had afflicted him in the first place. What rubbish! Jonah was to blame for his mess and no one else. The only thing that can honestly be pinned on God was saving his life with the giant fish. He could have simply let Jonah drown, but then that would have given him what he wanted, so he got swallowed instead. Jonah made his own mess.
But again, there’s just something instinctive about blaming God when things go wrong. Why is that? Let me offer you two reasons. First, the same brokenness in us that leads us to sin in the first place is just as active in looking to avoid the guilt that sin naturally brings. We see this in the original fall of Adam and Eve. The first thing they did when God called them to account for their sin was to point their fingers elsewhere. No one wanted to take ownership of what they had wrought. And, while that is totally understandable, it’s also wildly unhelpful.
Second, we don’t understand the grace and justice of God as well as we should. We try and play on one or the other depending on what’s convenient in a given situation forgetting that He is fully both all of the time. He will receive us back and give us a second (or millionth) chance when we turn to Him from out of our messes, but this doesn’t mean He is going to mitigate the consequences of our choices. If He came around behind us cleaning up our messes all the time we wouldn’t really be free agents capable of consequential choices. More specifically, we wouldn’t be able to really love Him.
Our faithful, gracious, and just God will always be there to pick up the pieces and carry us through the hardest stretches of our journeys, but He is also going to hold us accountable for the choices we make. Most often, that accountability comes in the form of letting the natural consequences of our sinful choices play themselves out naturally. That’s not ever very fun, but believe it or not, it is the most loving thing He could do.
Jonah may be in a mess here and in a mess of his own making, but at least his last instinct is the right one. No matter how deep a pit we have managed to dig for ourselves, if we will look up to Him, we will find the help and hope we need to keep going. That is an example worth following.