And then comes the storm
To recap yesterday’s post, Journeying with Jonah through Easter Week,
- God speaks
- God reaches out in love and mercy
- man runs away
That man is Jonah, but it could equally be you or me or any other human being who’s lived. That’s the way it goes for every single one of us. And what follows is what always follows at some point. It all catches up with you. ‘They’ catch up with you. Even if you’re Jason Bourne, you can’t run forever. There is nowhere to hide.
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.’ Jonah 1:4-6
What follows for Jonah is a storm. A violent, life-threatening storm. Storms happen. This story states that God sent the storm. Just like when bad things happen in our lives and people say ‘God made this happen for a reason’ and ‘This is all part of God’s plan.’
Really? Have a look around you. God really intended for this to happen? For these people to suffer in this way? I don’t think so. God never intended for any of this to happen! He intended for us to live in harmony with Him and each other and His creation. That’s what God intended when He created us. That was God’s plan. So when I look around and survey this unholy mess, I don’t see God’s plan in this. I see the opposite. I see the consequences of us trying to do it our way without God. I see the result of human selfishness and rebellion. I see the repercussions (seemingly random at times) that naturally occur when broken people are living in a broken world.
So don’t let’s pretend to know the mind of God. To try to make sense of it all by packaging it up as God’s plan. He allows events to unfold, I’ll give you that. But beyond that, let’s not make any claims to understand why shit happens. It happens.
OK, rant over. Those are the words I wanted to say at the weekend when someone tried to convince me that what I was going through was God’s plan. Words I was screaming inside my head.
I do believe, however, that when bad things happen, we call out to God. Which is a good thing. A natural human response. Even those who have no interest in God or any real belief in Him lie awake at night, praying to whoever’s out there, when they’re waiting for hospital results. God may not cause the storm, but He reaches out to us in it and our hearts respond to Him in our fear and loneliness and helplessness.
Note that in this story, the sailors don’t just pray. They pray first, but then they act. They do what they can to resolve the situation. Praying is often not enough. Not on its own. Praying is vital, the crying out of the created being to the Creator. But then the Creator urges those He has created to act. To do something. Prayer doesn’t let you off the hook. In fact, prayer is you showing up and saying ‘This is the situation and it’s awful and I just don’t know what to do. I need you to show me what to do, how to get through this, how to help.’
And what’s Jonah doing? He’s sleeping. How can he possibly be sleeping during a storm that’s scaring the life out of hardened sailors? Sleep is the ultimate escape, I guess. He’s switching off to God and to everything and everyone around him. He’s desensitising himself to everything. He has to. He feels that’s the only way to survive.
So the captain has to wake him up. Has to confront him and challenge him. Has to force him to pray to his God, because praying to their gods is clearly not working.
And that’s the value of the storm, isn’t it? It wakes us up. It grabs us by the shoulders and shakes us until we open our eyes and take in what’s going on.
I’m not prepared to say that bad things happen for a reason, although of course sometimes the awful stuff happens as a direct result of our behaviours and choices or the behaviours and choices of those closest to us. But often, it’s more random than that. There doesn’t seem to be a reason. That’s when it feels cruel and unfair.
What I do firmly believe however is that tough times can open our eyes. We can carry on through life believing we know best until we discover that we don’t. We think we can do it all alone until we discover that we can’t. Life lulls us into a false sense of security, where we don’t need to rely on anyone but ourselves, until one day, we find ourselves in a situation where we feel weak and vulnerable, helpless and hopeless.
And when life brings us to our knees, God is there, stretching out a hand to help us up. He’s not seeing us at our best. We’re bruised and battered, tear-stained and dirty, pathetic and feeble. But we need Him. We need His help. We’ve reached the end of our resources and can’t go on without Him.
I’m not just saying this in an attempt to make you feel better. I know this to be true in my own life. When I look back over the last five years, I can see the immense strain and heartache that I and my family have been living through. A living hell at times. And the best thing about my particular storm, where I regularly feared for my physical and mental health, was that it has brought me to rely on God in a way I would not have done otherwise. I’ve been brought to my knees. I couldn’t have done this alone. I’ve needed God to give me His strength and love and grace, because mine ran out long ago.
So if you’re in your own personal nightmare of a storm right now, then allow the storm to wake you up. To see what really matters. To see things as they really are. Allow yourself to respond to that natural desire to pray. It’s OK. God’s there waiting for you to reach out to Him. Not with any sense of judgement but with the open arms of a loving parent desperate to reconnect with a runaway child.
And if you know someone really going through a terrible time at the moment, then please don’t ever say ‘This is God’s plan.’ Just be there. Reach out in God’s love. Respond as God is responding to the situation. Bring His love and forgiveness and peace into the situation.
You don’t need words. No one’s looking to you for an explanation.
Just be there. Reach out.
That is enough.