[DISCLAIMER: This post goes against every mental rule I made for myself when I began this blog (i.e. rule number one- always write fiction.) However, it is something that I wrote a long time ago. I was reminded of this piece today and went back to it. Rereading my words, I realized as writers- By writer, I mean one who is able to place words onto a page and cast any and all inhibitions aside- despite what society says is artistic, appropriate, or sane. As writers, we have this rare gift of actually being able to speak to our future selves. It is a rather magical experience for one to receive words of advice from her former self. After reading, I felt like the old me made some points that are worth sharing. Welcome to a taste of time travel.]
The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Jonah 2:5-7
I absolutely love this passage. Even in my deepest, darkest times that were so far away from God and even myself, this passage never failed to pop into my head and speak to me.
Jonah’s story reminds me so much of my own. He was just a simple man who God spoke to one day. Christ gave Jonah a mission to go to this city of Ninevah. From the Bible’s description, Ninevah reminded me a lot of Las Vegas or any of the different college towns I have partied at in the past. Long story short, Jonah walked away from God and Ninevah to this random city in the opposite direction. He didn’t think this mission was worth his time.
Now I will point out that this is where Jonah and I differ. If God gave me a mission to go to Ninevah and spread his word, I would have packed my bags and traveled up there that very night. However, instead of proclaiming his name, I would have gotten wrapped into the partying, gambling, and who knows what else that was going down in the darkest streets of the city. If God asked me what I was doing, I probably would have just said I was building relationships with the people of the city so that I could reach out to them on a more personal level in the future. Bullshit. I would have literally tried to bullshit God, explaining how obviously my way was a better way of giving these people living in darkness access to his eternal light. That is exactly what I have been doing for the last five years of my life.
Enough about me, back to Jonah’s story. On his way to this city opposite of where God wanted him to be, Jonah hopped on this ship for the last leg of the trip. I like to think he wasn’t all that fond of traveling this way. I think he was that guy puking his guts out in the bottom rooms of the ship, completely seasick. When his stomach finally started to settle, Jonah was able to doze off for a nice, long nap. He was a pretty hard sleeper, completely oblivious to what was going on upstairs.
Meanwhile, the entire crew was screaming orders back and forth at the tops of their lungs, trying to battle the storm of the century. Their voices just getting lost at sea, landing on deaf ears. Rain drops tore through the sails like drops of fire, then feeling like bee stings on the faces of the captain and his men. Slowly each man on board began to realize that human force was powerless in this temper tantrum of the sea. They began to pray, chant, and worship the idols of their gods, begging them to stop the storm. The rage of the sea only grew stronger with every spiritual or magical plea.
Someone had the idea that something on board was angering the gods. They threw whatever they could overboard. I like to picture this part as these men who believed in something (they weren’t sure exactly what) knew that their daily habits were not pleasing to whatever higher power that was out there. I like to picture them throwing liquor, wine, and maybe sex toys or porn overboard. They probably threw their most prized earthly possessions over, hoping that would help. They took what little treasures they had and tried to sacrifice those overboard to calm down the anger of the gods.
This was still not working. Then, as the captain tore through the rooms at the bottom of the boat, he saw Jonah. He shook Jonah out of his slumber and begged him to find a solution the issue. Jonah was still pretty out of it, so the Captain temporarily gave up on Jonah having an answer, and he and all his men decided to draw straws. Maybe that would help identify who could have possibly angered the gods so much to put them through this storm that was surely about to be the end for everyone on board.
Predictably so, Jonah drew the short straw. He finally admitted to them his entire story of running away from the Hebrew God of Jacob. He came to terms with his mistakes and told the men to throw him overboard, and he knew that paying the consequence for his actions would take God’s anger and therefore calm this torrent. At first, they refused. These men were beginning to realize a lot about their gods and the God of Jonah at this time. They were not ready to face whatever price they might have to pay for throwing a man into the doom of this storm. Finally, after they realized the storm was getting more furious the more they kept talking, they decided that fulfilling Jonah’s wish was the only option remaining.
So they did.
As Jonah flew overboard into the waves crashing below, he accepted his defeat. He thought for sure this was it for him. No matter how gracious his God had been in the past, he knew his God was also an angry and a just God. And he had the audacity to spit in this God’s face. The next thing he remembered was sheer darkness.
Jonah had passed out and woke up in a dank, dark, murky cave. He tried to get out of it, but the cave would just rumble every time he tried. Finally after a few hours, Jonah saw this light… It was a horizontal line of light. And he began to realize where he was. He was looking through the bowels of an insanely ginormous sea creature. Somehow, God allowed him to see the light of the sunrise through the mouth of this great fish. He saw the same light come and go three times total. During that 72 hour period of torture, Jonah prayed that prayer I recorded at the top of this page. Despite the feelings of doom and gloom he experienced during the first two days in the belly of that creature, Jonah finally was able to thank God for allowing him to live through this experience. He knew he deserved death and so much more. God chose to give him life, even this life of temporary darkness… Jonah knew that in reality, he had been living in darkness long before he was cast out of that ship and swallowed up by this creature.
Shortly after Jonah’s final confession and prayer of thanksgiving and realization to God, the sea creature spit Jonah out back onto the shore. He washed up on shore, crawling in the sand, barely able to handle the beaming light of midday sunshine above. After three days and three nights of repentance and realization, Jonah finally fulfilled his purpose and traveled to Ninevah.
The rest of the story can be found in the Old Testament of the Bible in the book of Jonah. To sum it up, Jonah wasn’t perfect, and he actually fell back into another argument with God. He disagreed with the way God decided to deal with this city. Adamantly telling God that he knew it all along. He knew this city would be given too many chances to change from an overly gracious God.
I am sure later on in life, Jonah told his children and his children’s children this story. At this part in the story, I can imagine him grinning from ear to ear.
“Yes young ones, I was actually stupid enough to stick to this argument without realizing God’s grace that I was so busy criticizing, was the reason I was still breathing enough hot air to continue living and ranting that day.”
I want to stop the story telling right here. The thing I love about Jonah’s story, is that it isn’t ever finished. As far as I know, the Bible never talks about whatever happened with Jonah. I don’t think this lack of completion is because Jonah never did anything more to fulfill the purpose that God gave him. I believe that God wanted Jonah to convey his sinful human nature and God’s grace to the rest of the world for centuries to come.
Like Jonah, I have been back and forth battling the same battles with God for years. I am still figuring things out, but despite all of the obscenity and misrepresentation of my “Christian” life so far, God continues to stand by me. Like Jonah, I actually had times where I told God to give up and leave me alone. I remember specific scenes of my life story where I literally faced a situation that I knew would hurt my Father, I turned away from the situation briefly enough to look my God in the eyes, make sure he saw me turn my back on his light, and follow that path of darkness instead.
I can only imagine what will happen the moment I turn back, look into God’s eyes again, and follow him.