Most of us know the story of Jonah. God calls the infamous prophet to preach to the people of Nineveh, but instead Jonah flees to Tarshish. God pursues his prophet, tracking him down with a storm and a giant fish, and Jonah ultimately ends up in Nineveh, leading the city to repentance.
Today I want to examine a portion of the narrative that we often overlook: the vignette of the mariners. I would encourage you to read the entire first chapter of Jonah for yourself later on, but for convenience, I've pulled a few verses from the story below.
“Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them […] And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.’ […] Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not.” (Jonah 1:4, 7, 13)
If I had to describe the response of the mariners, I would choose "pantheistic panic". These poor men didn't have a clue what was happening to them, and in terror, they employed futile tactics for their safety: praying to any god that may listen, tossing cargo overboard, casting lots, and rowing harder. None of it worked.
As I read Jonah 1, I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of thousands of "pantheists" who populate Philadelphia (and I'm not just referring to those who worship in pantheistic religions). Every day I bump shoulders with confused and fearful non-Christians who try to make sense out of their life by worshiping a multiplicity of gods and who try to find meaning and purpose by employing a variety of futile tactics.
But can I be honest? More times than I would like to admit, my response to these "pantheists" is one of frustration, not compassion. In some way or another, their idol worship manages to get in the way of my comfort, and I respond with anger instead of pity. Self-righteously, I tell myself that I've come to an understanding of the Truth on my own, and if I’m able to understand it, why can’t everyone else be like me?
What a cruel (and theologically wrong) response! Had it not been for the intervening grace of God, I would be just like them, and even though I now know the Truth and worship the living God, my fickle heart is still tempted to worship the same false gods they worship. And, what a wasted opportunity! Could it be that God put these non-Christians in my life, not for the purpose of annoying me, but so that I may be an instrument of revelation to their blind eyes?
This week, you will interact with mariners - confused and fearful pantheists trying to make sense of life. If just one of them, by divine intervention, came to know the Truth because of your loving relationship, wouldn’t your life be worth living?
Paul David Tripp
- How were you, at one point in your life, like these mariners?
- How was God patient, kind, and compassionate towards you in your confused wandering?
- How can unbelievers be frustrating for the Christian?
- If you are frustrated easily and often, in what ways might you value your kingdom more than God's kingdom?
- Today, who can you reach who doesn't know the Lord?