“As my life was fading away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
There’s something about good things happening at the last second that inspires us. Bottom of the ninth home runs in baseball or buzzer beaters in basketball are the most exciting ways for a team to achieve victory. I think there’s a very good reason for this and we see a hint of it right here in Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish.
My boys were rewatching The Last Jedi the other day. For all of its flaws as a Star Wars sequel, it was a fun movie in and of itself. The opening scene in particular when the rebels are trying to take down the First Order Dreadnaught is gripping. All of the rebel bombers flying in for the attack get destroyed except one which just manages to get into place. But the trooper who is supposed to launch the bomb payload gets injured and stuck out of place. She manages to kick down the button that releases the bombs, but it looks like it is going to fall out of the bottom of the ship. The scene unfolds in beautiful slow motion and at the last second, with First Order Tie Fighters closing in to shoot this last bomber down, she reaches down and grabs it out of the air, presses the button, and accomplishes her mission. It could have been a scene from the end of a movie it was so compelling.
For all of our issues with Jonah and for all his being thrown overboard was his own fault (and not just because he requested it), we should probably acknowledge that it was terrifying. Personally speaking, I can’t imagine a worse way to die than drowning. I felt like I was starting to drown in a water park wave pool once when I was a kid and I’ve been just a little leery around water ever since. The fear only manifests itself when I am in situations where I am potentially not in control, and I tend to avoid those at all costs, but it’s there all the same.
Imagine for a minute what it was like to hit the waves with the storm at full tilt. There’s a good chance Jonah didn’t know how to swim. His natural human buoyancy was likely quickly overcome by the waves. No matter how determined he was to avoid God’s call to go to Nineveh, terror rapidly overtook his determination and, with water-logged lungs, he started crying out to God.
And even though He knew what the future held in terms of Jonah’s attitude and actions—and perhaps because of it—God’s compassion and mercy were stirred by the prophet’s cries and He saved him in a way only He could have done. Why did He do that? Because that’s the kind of God He is.
One day, Jesus told a story about a man with two sons. Remember this one? The younger son was a rebellious fool and left with his share of his inheritance which he quickly squandered. He wound up with a job feeding pigs, which for a Jew meant he had fallen through the bottom and was buried somewhere in the dirt beyond the lowest point he could have ever imagined hitting. All the same, at the point he realized his situation was bad enough he was actually jealous of the pig, he swallowed his pride and went home. Did he find judgment and condemnation? Nope. He found the excitedly open arms of his father who never once stopped loving him and hoping for his return.
In the book of Judges, the people of Israel turn from God over and over again. And over and over again they reap the consequences of their faithlessness. Each time they cry out to the Lord from the pit of their misery, though, He saves them from the hand of whatever nation had conquered them. They repeat this pattern several times and yet find grace each time they start it over.
That’s just the character of the God we serve.
Here’s what this means for you: No matter how far you think you’ve fallen, you haven’t fallen so far that your heavenly Father won’t still take you back when you’re ready to come to your senses and receive the life you’ve always wanted to be living instead of whatever else it is you’ve been doing.
It may be that, like Jonah, you are in a mess that is entirely of your own making. You set out down that path on purpose, but now that you’ve reached nearly the end of that road, you have finally decided you want something better. Even at the point your life is fading away, if you’ll cry out to Him, your prayer will still come to Him in His holy temple; He’ll still hear you and be moved with compassion for you. He will still rescue you from the grip of death and give you life everlasting.
In fact, He’s so committed to doing that He sent His only Son to give up His life on a cross in order to pave the way back to a relationship with Him for you. And listen, if He was willing to give up His only and beloved Son for you, you haven’t yet run far enough to be beyond the reach of His amazing grace. Turn to Jesus from out of whatever mess you find yourself wallowing in and receive grace and life in abundance. What are you waiting for? Get to living.