Friday, November 27, 2009

Staying Out of the Whale

Jonah was a prophet who rejected the will of God for his life (see Jonah). God told him to go to Nineveh, and he ran off in the opposite direction. Nor did he do it with the best of motives. He did not want the Ninevites to repent; he wanted God to destroy them. Then we read that Jonah had only God's second best and was miserable for the rest of His life. Well, no. Maybe God appeared to some other person and told them to go to Nineveh. Not quite. God sent a storm, and God sent a sea creature (possibly a whale), and Jonah went to Nineveh.

But often we see finding God's will put forward as a mysterious, complicated thing in which well intentioned Christians can go astray if they do not use precisely the right method. Scripture rather pictures the will of God as something it is difficult to get out of. An even more extreme case is that of Balaam (see Numbers 22-24). Balaam was offered money if he would curse Israel, and he wanted very much to do so. But God threatened him with an angel and rebuked him through a donkey, and he ended up blessing Israel rather than cursing them. Ultimately, he was not willing to give up; he came up with a scheme to corrupt Israel through sin, and God put him to death (Numbers 31:8, 16). But even in deliberate disobedience it took work for him to get out of the will of God.

Part of the problem is we expect God to lay His whole will out before us at once. Based on Scripture, God very rarely does that. Elijah was fed by ravens at the brook Cherith until the brook dried up and he was led to a widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:2-16). Paul was forbidden to preach the word in the province of Asia and sent to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10), but later Paul spent 2 years preaching the word to the province of Asia (Acts 19:10).

What I am forced to conclude is that if we will trust and obey God (and quite possibly even if we won't), God will direct us into His will (Proverbs 3:5, 6; Psalms 23:3; 31:3; Romans 12:1, 2). These promises are not conditional on our past obedience, let alone our having figured out the proper way to find God's will. That does not mean there will be no hard decisions or that we should make those decisions foolishly, but we can make them in the confidence that God is at work in our life, guiding us to where He wants us to be. We should also remember that the most important part of God's will is obedience to His written word (1 Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 13:21). Even if we disobey, though, God has ways to bring us back. But who wants to go the long way around, in the belly of a whale?

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