God of Wonders...And Jonah
"And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?" (-God, Jonah 4.11)
C.S. Lewis one told a story about an old mystical barnacle, who was granted a vision of humanity. He shared with his barnacle followers that humans had no shell; they were not surrounded by water; they were not affixed to a rock. But as time went by, the old mystical barnacle passed away, and his followers began to speculate on the meaning of his vision. They concluded that if humans had no shell, then they must be shapeless. If they were not surrounded by water, then they clearly did not eat. And if they were not fixed to a rock, then they must have no sense of home or place. They concluded that humanity, such as it was, must be far less sophisticated and important than barnacles.
Lewis, in his inimitable style, was reminding us of our limits as we try to imagine and understand God. And if anything, the gap we face makes the difference between humanity and barnacles seem small to the point of insignificance. This story reminds us why we desperately need the Bible—God’s self-disclosure, his revelation about himself. Without it, we are like those barnacles contemplating humanity.
I recently preached out of the book of Jonah, a book I love in part because it is a book you can grow into. Jonah is a story loved by children that is at the same time full of profound theology for adults. In particular, Jonah paints a vivid and beautiful picture of God, and it does so in a way that is so casual and approachable that it can almost be easy to miss. In particular, I love the way that Jonah paints a picture of the awesome power and grandeur of God into a story of God’s very personal and intimate relationship with Jonah.
The God who calls Jonah, personally and specifically, is also the God who commands the sea, winds, and waves to arrest Jonah’s flight. The God with the authority to command a whale to swallow Jonah, and the power to keep Jonah alive in that whale, is also the God who hears Jonah’s prayer of repentance, and shows him mercy. The God with authority over all creation, with the right and power to judge all Nineveh, is the same God who delights to speak to Jonah, and us. He is the God of wonders, and of Jonah.
Never is this incredible picture more vibrant than at the very end of the book. Jonah is sitting on a hill, watching Nineveh, bitter because God has shown them mercy. And God decides to provide Jonah a personal object lesson. He causes a plant to grow and shade Jonah, for which Jonah is grateful. Then God causes it to die, much to Jonah’s distress. Gently and patiently, God uses this to teach Jonah by analogy about his care and compassion for all that he has created. The God who commands winds, waves and whales teaches his wayward prophet with all the gentleness and patience of a loving parent.
The picture that Jonah paints—a God of great power and great compassion, is one that we sometimes struggle to comprehend. We cannot comprehend why a God who has the power to declare his glory with the very stars of heaven, would possibly want to know us. And so we need God’s word to remind us, to speak the truth we struggle to imagine. We need Jonah to remind us that the God of wonders is the God of Jonah. The God who speaks the universe into being with a word in Genesis 1 is the same God who comes in person and teaches us to call him Daddy (Mt. 6.9).