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When life is hard, do you become bitter or better? How you answer that question will determine whether God can use you for his purposes.
In my experience, life is hard for three basic reasons: (1) Rotten luck. Sometimes, bad things happen for what seems like no particular reason. (2) Evil people. Someone else has done something wrong, and we are experiencing the negative consequences of their actions. And (3) personal sins. We have done something wrong, and we are experiencing the negative consequences of our own actions.
If Job is an example of reason (1) and Christ an example of reason (2), then surely Jonah is an example of reason (3). Though we sympathize with Jonah’s parlous situation, we also realize that it’s his own fault. If he didn’t want to spend time being digested in a fish’s belly, he shouldn’t have boarded the fast boat to Tarshish. He should have caught the caravan to Nineveh.
Jonah himself seems to have realized that his submarine ride was an act of divine discipline. Just look at his prayer in Jonah 2:3-7. Speaking to God, Jonah confesses:
You hurled me into the deep,into the very heart of the seas,and the currents swirled about me;all your waves and breakersswept over me.I said, “I have been banishedfrom your sight;yet I will look againtoward your holy temple.”The engulfing waters threatened me,the deep surrounded me;seaweed was wrapped around my head.To the roots of the mountains I sank down;the earth beneath barred me in forever.But you brought my life up from the pit,O LORD my God.When my life was ebbing away,I remembered you, LORD,and my prayer rose to you,to your holy temple.
Jonah is pretty chipper for a guy stuck in a fish’s belly at the bottom of the sea. It’s not because he’s a masochist—the suffering-for-Jesus type who equates hardship and obedience. (Sometimes, obedience to God’s will is hard, but not always. Remember: Jesus also said that his yoke is easy and his burden light.) Nor is Jonah happy because he’s a Panglossian optimist who despite his circumstances nonetheless thinks that this is the best of all possible worlds. Rather, Jonah is a theological realist. He realizes that “the LORD disciplines those he loves” (Proverbs 3:12). Discipline is a temporary judgment, and its purpose is reform, not retribution. God wants Jonah to see the error of his ways and get back on the right path.
Are you going through a rough patch in life at the moment? If so, try to figure out why. If it’s because of rotten luck, learn patience. If it’s because of evil people, fight for justice. And if it’s because of personal sin, try repentance. God gives second chances to those he loves.
Sometimes, you see, what seems like the end of your world is really the beginning of a new adventure with God.