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Jonah and the choices we make (Week One)

As we start the Jonah reading challenge by reading Chapter 1: 1-6 Bishop Paul reflects on the choices we make.

As we start the challenge we read Jonah Chapter 1: 1-6

Jonah is a great story, and great stories speak of the way the world works. 

One way to look at the world is to see everything as planned out in advance, so that our own choices are irrelevant or pointless. As an example of that, do you know the Iraqi story of the appointment in Samarra? 

A man is walking through the bazaar in Baghdad when he comes face to face with Death, who looks at him and then frowns and looks again with a piercing gaze. Terrified and wanting to escape, the man runs home, packs a bag and sets off to stay with his friend in Samarra. 

Meanwhile someone who saw the exchange in the bazaar comes up to Death and asks: “Why did you look so carefully at that man?” Death says, “Oh, I was just surprised to see him here. You see, I have an appointment with him tonight - at his friend’s house in Samarra”.

Sometimes indeed the world can feel like that. What difference do our choices make? But Jonah has a different story to tell. Superficially it looks the same.

The Lord has a plan for Jonah, and wants to use Jonah to preach repentance and mercy to the great city of Nineveh, to the east. And just like the man in Baghdad, Jonah runs away - in this case aiming to go to Tarshish, far to the west. 

Why? Simply because Jonah doesn’t want Nineveh to repent and turn to God. He wants to see the people of Nineveh receive their just desserts, to be destroyed, to be burned up by God’s judgement like Sodom and Gomorrah. That’ll teach them!

We discover this a good deal later, early in Chapter 4 where Jonah says to God: “Come on, Lord! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy.”

And so he runs away, down to Joppa and on to the boat headed for Tarshish. And by doing so he runs into a storm, as we shall discover next week. But the storm, like the great fish who comes along later, is sent by God with a purpose; to turn Jonah around. Unlike the man in Baghdad, Jonah is a free agent. He has a say in where he goes, but if he is to go with God, he needs to turn around.

As we begin this challenge, as we journey with Jonah, I ask you (and I ask myself) a couple of questions:

Do I believe that I am free to make choices in life?

If I am, what choice do I make? Do I want to live a life of mercy, in line with God’s purposes of love and forgiveness? If so, where do I need to turn around?

You may want to use these questions as a way of starting conversations with friends in the church. And if you felt able to share your reflections, stories and inspirations on our social media feeds using the hashtag #RuleOfLife #CalledToRead, #JourneyWithJonah that would be great too.

And look out for some challenges on Friday.

With every blessing as your own journey unfolds!


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