Daily Devotion: Fish, Faith and The Unmerited Gift of a Shade-Bush

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Bible Readings for Friday March 11th, 2011 – The 1st Week of Lent

*Click on each bible passage to expand the text.

Psalm 51

Jonah 4:1-11

Romans 1:8-17

  • Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10
  • And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” – Jonah 4:11
  • For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:17

Faith.

What a fascinating subject!

Jonah struggled with faith very much.

When the Word of the Lord came to Jonah in the first chapter of the book of Jonah, he high-tailed it out of there as fast as he could because he had no faith in the Lord. In this scenario, the meaning of faith is deeply rooted in trust and belief. Jonah did not believe in the power of God’s will for him, nor trust in God’s intent. So he ran. And let’s be honest here: most of us would run, too; screaming to the hills if God came to us!

Even more fascinatingly, once Jonah fled from God and subsequently found himself in the belly of the fish after being thrown overboard from the boat he was fleeing on, he began to plead to God for salvation. How many of us do this? We ignore God in almost every common situation, but it’s only when we are in desperate need do we suddenly open our hearts and minds to God’s presence and God’s reality in our lives. “God who?” very quickly becomes “God help!” when the skies of our lives grow dark and foreboding.

Jonah 2

9. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

10. And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

The Art of "Divine Negotiation"

Ah, Jonah. A man after my own heart, in fact his words should sound very familiar to all of us: The Great Art of Divine Negotiation.

“I promise I will be good God if you would only _______.”

This instinct to negotiate with God is remarkable, and astounding in its universality among humans. Even the most faithless among us will turn to God in a time of great peril, and even the most faithful still bargain with God! Amazing. Who do we think we are?? But it seems to work for Jonah…

What does God do to this selfish, spineless, whelp of a man? Does he let him rot in the belly of the fish? No, God saves Jonah. God saves Jonah and takes him up on his word that Jonah will now go and deliver a message of divine judgment to the evil city of Nineveh. And when Jonah delivers the divine proclamation of doom, the people of Nineveh repent and do the very same that Jonah did: beg for mercy. And just like Jonah, God grants it.

And here’s where it gets really interesting: when Jonah sees that God isn’t going to kill everyone, he is incensed with God!

Jonah 4

1. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

This is the ancient equivalent of, “WTF, God. Mercy?? The whole reason I fled from you in the first place was because I thought you were cool, but then you became a real a-hole and scared the shit out of me. I didn’t want to do this! But you made me! And for what, so you could show the whole city mercy?? Why not just show them mercy in the first place and leave me alone?? You know what, God? Kill them or kill me now! This is bullshit…”

Sounds pretty human, doesn’t it? Very often divine reason and will seems wasteful, even callous to us. Often we find ourselves asking the really dark questions like: Why would God give me a child only to take my beloved baby away too soon? Why would God let our house foreclose? Why would God let my son be an addict? … and many times these questions are followed by a dark instinct to ask God to take it all away through death.

Did God really do these things or allow them happen? Not usually, they are mostly a matter of fate and free-will. But the real question is what does our soul learn and how does our heart transform from these kinds of experiences.

In Jonah’s case, he received an incredible glimpse into the heart of God, into the true nature of faith.

Jonah 4

5. Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

6. The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.

Now that this pouting, angry, short-sighted man is now sitting outside of town on a rise or bluff, the better to see God’s final destruction of the city on behalf of Jonah’s whiny plea (Jonah thinks), God again shows kindness and mercy on him by providing him a bush to shade Jonah while he waits in defiance of God! Amazing.

Jonah 4

7. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.

8. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Then God takes it away, leaving Jonah to bake in the sun and hot wind. And Jonah, the in perfect hyperbolic tone, would rather die than suffer the heat any longer. Just like us, when a blessing comes to pass and crumbles away, something we had nothing to do with earning or receiving (for all blessings are from grace, or unmerited favor), we cry out in protest and anger and often would rather suffer death than suffer loss. Fascinating instinct we have, isn’t it?

Instead of living in mindful gratitude that the blessing was even received in the first place, we fill our hearts with lament and anger over its loss!

Jonah 4

9. But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.”

10. Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night.

11. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

If Jonah can feel such entitlement and attachment to an unmerited blessing like the bush, then how much more concern and sense of responsibility should God have for his creation?

We are a blessing to God. And God values us and watches over us like a doting father over his child. Good or bad, he watches and protects and acts in ways that may seem malicious at the time… but are always a lesson in grace, faith, and love.

One aspect of “faith” is to trust. Amazingly, while we may not trust in God, God trusts in us to do the right thing when it counts. It may seem foolish, but God has faith in us.

We just need to learn to trust in God and be thankful for God’s grace and blessings, even when we lose them. Even when they don’t make any sense.

 

Trig Bundgaard About Trig Bundgaard

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Romans 5
"18. Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
19. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."

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