Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Jonah and Creation

Jonah is famous for running the other way when God tells him to go to Ninevah. (He's also a famous bit of fish food but that's another post for another day.) One of the things I realized when reading Frank Spina's The Faith of the Outsider is that Jonah only turns back to the right direction after he makes a basic theological connection, possibly for the first time. The key is the act of running away. We know it's laughable to try to run from YHWH by getting on a ship, but in the context, it's a very reasonable move to make to get away from garden-variety gods. You don't like what the god of Israel says? Get away from Israel. Problem solved, right?

Jonah's problem is his picture of YHWH is too typical; he thinks that by getting outside of YHWH's jurisdiction he can dodge the sentence. Since he's asleep when the storm comes, we get to see him the moment that he realizes that YHWH is still there (even in international waters). What does he say?

“I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.

I think that Jonah realizes at just this point that the message he's been preaching all his life is true. As a prophet of YHWH he undoubtedly teaches that YHWH made everything. At this moment he unpacks that abstract theology to find the practical upshot inside: if YHWH made everything, he is in charge of everything too, and he is everywhere. And it's kind of stupid to try to get away from the creator of everything on a little ship.

At this moment we see Jonah make the move from creation to omnipresence (and omnipotence). He moves to a position of absurd trust, telling the sailors to toss him overboard, which seems like a death sentence. Who knows whether he expects to be saved or not at this point? He trusts that God made the sea, certainly, and he probably just wants to get away from the sailors so they aren't collateral damage when he's taken out. I have to wonder if there's a glimmer of possibility in his mind, if he's wondering whether he'll be saved to fulfill his calling somehow. One thing's for sure -- I'll bet he doesn't expect a fish. (No one expects a fish. Or a talking donkey. But again, that's another story.)

This practical change of direction is what a doctrine of creation is for. Not to prove God's existence by prefiguring a physical correlate of the ancient Hebrew story, but to provide a foundation from which the rest of theology logically follows, from the "omni" words all the way to the specific person of the Messiah. Not to give you something to argue about while others yawn -- something to make you realize that you're wasting your time if you try to run away from YHWH's call. This YHWH is no provincial god. The proof that he is creator of all is not buried in the rocks, it's evident in the events of your life, through which he will pursue you until you make the choice to trust that He will save you, whatever your circumstances.

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