Minister's Letter - June 2018

Jonah – and the *****

No – don’t say it! There has to be more to Jonah than the ‘thing’ you remember from Sunday school. This year’s Bible Month in June is based around Jonah. There are four weeks in June and, happily, four chapters in Jonah – so – one a week. Just don’t mention the … well, you know what.

There are some big themes in four chapters of Jonah which this month’s preachers will no doubt explore. Jonah finds God, blowing up a big storm – but is confident that he worships the God who made this creation. How do we deal with God the creator when much of the creation is in chaos? Jonah runs away from God – I know his feeling! Do you? And what does it feel like when God comes searching for you? Jonah is sent on a mission to a very disreputable place, Nineveh, to talk about God.

Now, I know, we all struggle to talk of God in public – Jonah challenges us to do just that. Some say the book is trying to encourage the Israelites – or us – to be less exclusive and share their faith more broadly. And what about forgiveness? And God’s nature? Jonah is outraged that God might forgive the people who have just repented – think elder brother in the ‘prodigal son’ story. Jonah challenges our perception of a vengeful God in the Old Testament. Above all, Jonah is a story, not of one who is called to turn others back to God, but a story of how God calls Jonah – or you and me – to turn back to him. Big themes indeed.

The early Christians took Jonah’s three days in the stomach of a – no, I can’t mention it – to be a metaphor for Christ in the grave, awaiting the resurrection; God’s forgiveness of Nineveh to be a sign of the new life in Christ.

“I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.” (Jonah 2: 2)

There – and I didn’t even mention the ‘whale’!