This past year has been marked by striking a number of natural disasters: significant storms in different parts of the country, hurricanes and tornadoes, fires ravaging our state and other western states. The commentary has ranged from discussions of global warming to end times phenomena.
As a general rule I try to avoid making theological assumptions about other people’s suffering. Eventually such talk ends up looking either arrogant, stupid, or cruel. This is one of the major lessons of the book of Job in the Bible: Even when you’re armed with the best theology, it’s easy to make unsafe assumptions when you don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain.
But there are places for discernment, and we see this in the book of Jonah. The author was confident that God hurled the wind that created the storm (1:4). Jonah said flatly that he knew his presence on the ship was what caused the mayhem (1:12b). When people understand their life events through the lens of their faith and experience of God, I’m less apt to question their conclusions.
For our part, it’s probably best to spend our discerning-energies in trying to understand which efforts are wasted and which ones are well-spent. This is seen with the sailors on the ship (in 1:5-16). Searching for answers in an intense storm, they resorted to casting lots (1:7). They were just trying to understand the situation, and their first efforts didn’t work out so well. Faced with a no-win situation they engaged in a failed effort to row to shore (1:13). And all throughout the storm conditions worsened (1:11,13).
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you were spinning your wheels to no good end? What should you do? The narrative gives some clues on how to respond…
Jonah was a prophet in the 8th century B.C. with messages for both his nation (II Kings 14:25-27) and for a foreign nation (Jonah 1:1-2). Many years later God sent His son, our savior Jesus Christ, to be the redeemer for the people of all nations. Jesus declared that God’s house should be a house of prayer for all people (Mark 11:17). And Jesus calmed the storm when His disciples were out at sea (Mark 4:35-41). Putting your faith in Jesus is no guarantee that you won’t have to face storms; Jesus, after all, had to endure persecution and crucifixion. But knowing Jesus and having a healthy prayer-life can give a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). And it’s all a part of our faith that serves as a foundation for making good decisions in the stormy seasons of life.
God bless you,
Andrew McHenry, Pastor
I am a husband, a Congregational pastor, and a native Kansan currently living in Thermalito, California. In the past I have also been a prison chaplain and a youth pastor. Interests include reading, railroads, prog rock, KU, and the KC Royals. Opinions are my own and are not necessarily those of organizations I have been with.