Written by Jonathan Toccoli

9/3/2017

When The Sea Breaks Over You and Saves Your Life


(Scriptures to Meditate on Before, During or After: Luke 15, Psalm 51 and Exodus 34; Book Suggestion: Till We Have Faces)

In my beginning is my end…
– T. S. Eliot

Have you ever ran away from home? I did when I was seven or eight. I was mad at my dad and decided one of us would have to leave and, as I couldn’t kick him out, I decided I take the leap. I went into my bedroom, packed my most prize possessions (stuffed animals, a Lego motorcycle and my copy of Blades of Steel) and some underwear and I was ready to go. It took me about 10 minutes to find a bag and assemble these things. By the time I got it all together, I couldn’t remember what I was angry at, but as I was a stubborn pain in my families collective backside, I had to go. And so, what did I do? I went instead and hid behind his easy chair and waited for him to find me. I still wonder what would have happened to me if I actually did walk out that door. When it comes to my relationship with God, I did actually walk out the door. And I suspect I am not the only one who did so.

The last time we talked together we found out we were not really – despite all the pretense and posturing – who we thought we were. “How,” we asked, after coming face-to-face with this reality “do we come back – or can we?” What we found was some hope and a-whole-lot-more questions. But here we are again and Jonah is in the place we were last time. Our question, however, has changed slightly. The Lord has shown us that we can come back – he is a God infinite in grace after all. The question for us has to do with the manner of that homecoming.

Let’s be honest, the main hindrance in any homecoming is pride. In the very fact of leaving home we are trying to prove we are equal to/with whom/whatever from which we are running. Why else would we leave? Wouldn’t it be far more preferable to kick out whom/whatever is causing us problems? But we can’t. They’re the real deal, we’re counterfeit. They’re the home keeper, we’re the house guest. They’re the boss or the father or mother or wife or husband or [fill in your problem here]. The relevant biblical story here would be the prodigal son. “You’re not the boss of me!” the youngest son shouts as he runs away from his father into the arms of prostitutes.

Hold up, get too choked up when I think of old stuff
– Lil Wayne

Consider what this looks like for Jonah. Here we have a prophet of God, a man who is really rather a big deal. He’s a man with power, personality and command. When he says, ‘do this,’ even kings obey (2 Kings 14). For him to leave his home then is like when Napoleon was sent into exile – just that Jonah chose it. This can mean but one thing: that which Jonah was up against is greater, more powerful or, at least, more at home in Israel than Jonah. And so he is. Jonah was up against the God of everything. That’s a tough spot for a powerful person to be. But it gets worse.

Remember, Jonah is a prophet. Ask yourself, what are the key responsibilities of a prophet? Here’s a rough and dirty list. Prophets should: arouse apathetic people (e.g., Jeremiah), call on God (e.g., 1 Samuel 12), discern God’s will (e.g., Numbers 34) and occasionally offer sacrifices (e.g., 1 Kings 18). But who is doing these things in Jonah? Here’s a hint: not Jonah. It’s the pagan mariners who are doing these things. The captain rouses Jonah from sleep (1:6), the sailors are calling on their gods (1:5), the sailors cast lots to discern who has caused the storm (1:7) and finally, the sailors offer a sacrifice to the Lord (1:16). Jonah has majorly been shown up, and by pagan sailors. But it gets worse.

Sure, Jonah’s flight shows he’s acting like the whiny prodigal son and the pagan sailors are more faithful prophets than Jonah, but even a sea monster – which in the ancient world were thought to be the embodiment of the chaos god him/herself (see Isaiah 27) – even the sea monster is obedient to God’s call. This chaos monster/god does two things and does them obediently: 1) swallow Jonah and 2) throw him up on the land. And it does so without comment or contest or resentment.

To say that Jonah is completely, thoroughly and utterly shamed by the end of chapter 1 is to put it gently. Everything and everyone seems to be a better prophet, a better person than Jonah. Humbling.

So back to our question, how do we come home? If Jonah is our example, we can say with certitude it doesn’t mean ‘finding ourselves’ or setting our path-a-right. If you are anything like me, that’s probably the worst thing you could hear. I mean, I’d gladly come home like David, the righteous king who wouldn’t lift a hand against his greatest enemy because he was God’s king. That sounds nice. I can do that. King Jonathan. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? But that’s not the way for us. Well, at least not for me. If it’s for you, call me. I want to know you. Our way is Jonah’s way and, ironically, Jesus’ way too.

Don’t believe in kings
Believe in the Kingdom
– Chance

It would be easy to conclude that since our homecoming is not in victory, not in joy, it should be meek and eyes-down-casted. But it’s not. Jonah’s way home was not timid. Instead, when Jonah comes to the end of himself he comes home boldly, but not proudly. Listen to these verses and imagine the depth of confidence in God and humility it would take for you or me to write them:

You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
– Jonah 2:3-4

So much confidence; so much honesty; such humility; such a surprise from someone like Jonah. And so here seems to be something like an answer to our question. Can we come home? Yes. But if we try to come home like we left, we’ll find, even if we are back in body, our soul, our mind will still be in the belly of that fish. Chaos will still have us and from that binding, there really is no other escape.

… In my end is my beginning.
– T. S. Eliot

So come home friends, if you have not already. And if you have, be sure to keep that vow, “Salvation comes from the Lord” (2:10) for a better-than-Jonah is here. And though he is more humble and far greater than Jonah, he requires the same thing. Come home, but remember to leave your ego at the door.

Maranatha.

IMG_1454

Jonathan is Vice Principal at Jim Elliot Christian High School and leads the Lincoln Village CG with his wife, Emily. While he is a fourth generation Stocktonian, he’s spent 7 of the last 9 years in Chicago working on a couple graduate degrees. Now that they’ve re-relocated to Stockton, he says he loves standing outside in the sun in January and lazing with his dogs. He also really, really enjoys espresso.