I can’t resist spending time with Jonah this week for I found echoes of this ancient story in the exchange I had with a ‘wise beyond his years’ second grader last Sunday.
First his grandmother and then his mother came to me. “Carter has a question,” they said. “We don’t know how to answer it. And we want to be there when you do!” Indeed, they were shaking their heads as they told me that they could not have imagined this sort of wondering when they were his age. Only they wouldn’t give me a hint. Rather, they wanted to see what I would say in the moment!
“Okay,” I thought, cringing in dread a little bit for way too often I am stumped by the questions of 2nd graders. Even so, I waited for Carter and his family after Sunday School and smiled to myself at the eager anticipation on the faces of those who love him.
Here was his question:
“What would have happened if Jesus had never been born?”
For once I did not miss a beat, “Well, Carter,” I said, “Then God would have found another way.”
For isn’t this the story that is ours to trace all through scripture and nowhere more clearly than in the saga of Jonah?
Oh, isn’t it so that as we hear the snippet near the end of the chapters about Jonah that the whole story runs through our memory?
- How God told Jonah to go to Ninevah;
- And of how Jonah immediately went in the opposite direction, as if he could out-run or out-maneuver God;
- Of how Jonah makes his way onto a boat and of how a storm comes up;
- And of how Jonah seeks to sacrifice his life for the sake of his shipmates (showing us something about Jonah’s innate character — perhaps reminding of why God chose him for this mission to Ninevah in the first place;
- Of how while Jonah was sure he would die, he was rescued by unexpected means: a big fish who ferried him safely to shore after three long days and three long nights;
- And of how Jonah went reluctantly, went only partway into town and in the end, said as little as possible;
- Of how the whole of Ninevah was awakened and turned around even by only his half-hearted proclamation;
- And of how Jonah was heartbroken when God did exactly what Jonah knew he would do all along!
It is a marvelous story of God not giving up, of God finding a way no matter what, to get a word to the people of Ninevah, whom God also loved.
Indeed, God found a way: for God loved Jonah so much that he would pursue him to the ends of the earth for God knew that Jonah had a purpose to his life, whether he could acknowledge it at the time or not. And God loved the people of Ninevah so very much (and the animals, too!) that God would get a word to them doing whatever had to be done to make that happen!
And it is so that I have known this God who manages to “find another way” working in my life to bring me to places I could not have imagined even to this day. For God does not give up. God never gives up in the pursuit of calling each and all of us to places we could not imagine for ourselves for the sake of the people and the animals and this whole creation God so loves.
I have experienced this in a variety of ways throughout the course of my life:
- Way back in high school when a Clinton Clark saw something in me I could not have possibly seen in myself and urged me to join the speech (forensics) team and connected me with a coach who remains my friend, Christine Mowrey, who would bring out gifts in me which I did not know were there. I would not have had the confidence to do this on my own, but don’t you think God was finding a way, using remarkable educators in my school to literally change the course of my life?
- A few years later when I hesitated to go to seminary it surely happened again when instead I ‘ran’ some distance in the opposite direction — all the way to a graduate program in Ann Arbor. Only the voice was persistent, especially coming through the correspondence of my campus pastor, Larry Trachte, and before long I knew, like Jonah, that I was going to have to cast my fears overboard and get back on the path to my own ‘Ninevah.’ God found a way.
- And in these recent years as well. There was a time when I was known as a ‘good pastor’ and while I hope this still holds true, in these last years those who listen to me tell me that they also hear strains of the ‘prophetic’ in my preaching. For God has continued to awaken my heart and my hope to speak new words in this time and place. Yes, God finds a way.
I don’t know what would have happened if in the end Jonah had still refused to go to Ninevah.
And no, I do not know what would have happened if “Jesus hadn’t been born.”
But everything I know about how God works tells me that God doesn’t give up, that God will always find a way to reach God’s people in love and hope and promise. God finds a way. God always finds a way.
- How do you find yourself identifying with Jonah today? Have you ever found yourself running away from your ‘Ninevah?’
- What other examples in scripture come to mind about “God finding a way?” Which one(s) speak to you?
- What story or stories from your own life would you share about “God finding a way?”