Jonah Project Week 15

Jonah 1:15 

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 

One of the games little kids seem to love is the crazy-calm game especially when the little kids see adults playing along. Try this game with a four or five year kid you know well: turn on upbeat music and act crazy for a time, dancing crazy like around the living room. Then hit the pause button as you flop on the floor and be completely calm. Giggles tend to bubble up from the calm, leading to the next crazy time as the game repeats and music comes on again.

We’ve all heard about the “quiet before the storm”, with a sense of impending doom on the horizon whenever it gets peaceful, but I appreciate even more the calm after the raging sea. Consider a time when you found a calm and quiet place inwardly after a terrible storm hit your life. Silence and peace envelop our lives, wrapping around us and comforting us and restoring our soul after too much adrenaline, fear and intensity.

Adrenaline from our adrenal glands provides a natural boost to our bodies to get going, to regulate our heart rate and increase energy levels to improve how we cope with stressors in our life. The problem comes when we face too much stress too much of the time. Too much adrenaline and we wear out and need a break from the storm in our life.

So the sailors in our story finally take Jonah at his word, comply with Jonah’s request, and throw him overboard. To these veteran mariners, they know this means certain death to this man of God. Jonah never took swim lessons. The seas are epic, almost capsizing this cargo ship. Not one of these sailors expected Jonah to live once he was thrown overboard.

This matter of life and death causes the sailors an additional storm of conscience. In my view, internal storms are always harder to face than external storms. When your heart and soul is like a raging sea, how do you navigate your way to a calm harbor? What brings you peace?

At dinner a few nights ago, our son passed me a bowl of vegetables, and asked me if I could “visualize whirled peas”. I stirred the bowl of cooked peas, and told him how wonderful it would be if world peace came as easily. Personal peace is hard enough. Relational peace with those we love is the next step, and often comes at price many are not willing to pay. Longer strides into peace include reconciling with opponents, building peace among people in our circle of influence, and seeking peace between other people who are at odds. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.[i] 

Part of peacemaking is bearing other people’s burdens as Christ bore our burdens. These sailors literally pick Jonah up, carrying him to the railing of the deck of their ship. They have borne the brunt of the storm raging inside of Jonah, as he tried to flee from God. They have lost all their cargo overboard, in their heroic attempt to save their ship and almost lost their own lives. Now they pick up the body of this runaway man of God, and bear this burden of the weight of Jonah’s life. 

Paul has the audacity to write to the people of Galatia (a region just to the north of where this Jonah disaster takes place, in modern day Turkey), “Bear one anothers burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.[ii] Just a few sentences later, Paul also asserts that we “all must carry our own load.[iii] These two burdens go hand in hand. We are responsible for our own lives and must carry our own load. Jonah is responsible for his life, not these sailors. Yet, we are also asked to offer compassion to others by picking them up, carrying their burdens, helping to ease their suffering. In so doing, we sometimes bring others and are brought ourselves into a place of calm after the storm. In this way, we fulfill the way of love, ‘the law of Christ’, who bore our lives, and won for us true calm.

 Ivan Aivazovsky. The Billowing Sea. 1889
[i]Matthew 5:9 (NRSV).

[ii]Galatians 6:2.

[iii] Galatians 6:5.