Life is full of ups and downs.

That sounds so cliche, doesn’t it? But  things become cliche for a reason. There is some definite truth behind that saying. One minute things are going well, the next everything seems to be falling apart. Or sometimes it’s the other way around. It feels like you can’t catch a break and then suddenly everything just seems to fall into place.

Many times the ups and downs, the thrills and disappointments, the victories and defeats are truly no fault of our own. The company is downsizing. The stock market is wavering. A natural disaster swept through and caused major damage. Those times are sad and tragic. We can easily empathize with someone going through such a rough patch in life.

I don’t think anyone deserves to have their house leveled by a tornado or their child killed by a drunk driver.

But what happens when someone sinks to the depths of despair by their own volition? What if it’s clear that a person is suffering because they have made a string of horrible choices in their life? Do we pity them? Do we empathize with them? Do we have compassion on them? Often the answer is No.

But what about God? How does God feel when his children plummet into the pit because of their own stupid decisions?

That’s where the story of Jonah comes in.

The first two chapters of Jonah stir within the reader all sorts of emotions. Confusion, anger, terror, shock, despair. If this were playing out on TV you better believe I would be one of those people shouting helplessly at the LCD, “What are you doing?!”

In fact, the sailors do just that in 1:10, “This terrified them and they asked, ‘What have you done?!'”

Jonah brought about all this suffering on himself and others because of his own stupid decisions, his own foolish actions. It’s hard to feel sorry for the guy. This is the point at which I would be yelling, “Yeah! Just through him overboard! Do what he says! Wait, what? Why are you trying to row to shore? Just dump Jonah and be done with him! Save yourselves!”

Check it out. From 1:3 all the way to 2:6 we see Jonah make decision after decision to take himself further away from God until he literally hits rock bottom.

  • But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish
  • He went down to Joppa
  • But Jonah had gone below deck
  • he lay down
  • fell into a deep sleep
  • “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied
  • Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
  • From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help
  • You hurled me into the depths
  • To the roots of the mountains I sank down
Down, down, down. Further and further away from God, away from life, away from everything he had ever known. By the time he ends up with seaweed entangled around his head I begin to feel bad for the guy. 
But did you notice how far God let him sink before rescuing him?

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit. (2:6)

God let him hit rock bottom. God allowed Jonah to get to the point of no return. There was no possible way Jonah could pull himself up out of that pit he had dug himself into. Jonah could not save himself. He could not correct his own mistakes. He could not hope to swim to the surface and somehow rescue himself from drowning. God waited until Jonah knew that God was his only hope.

And Jonah got it.

I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’ (2:9)

How does God view those who purposefully rebel against him? Sometimes he lets the consequences play out as they may. Sometimes the only way someone can truly be saved is when they get to the point of no return. Sometimes God has to wait until the rebellious one has no out, no plan B, no way of saving himself. So when God acts, there is no denying that it was only God. Salvation comes from the Lord and no one else.

Does that mean that God is unloving? Absolutely not! There are times that my sons have to learn some things through their natural consequences. I can tell my son not to touch the hot stove, but the best way for him to learn is to touch it. Once is all it will take. Then I step in to put ice on the burn and comfort my crying child. Love means the freedom to choose.

God never stopped loving Jonah even though Jonah was trying to run away from him. That’s why, to our surprise, Jonah’s prayer in chapter two is a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving, not a prayer of lament.

It’s just like what Paul describes in Romans 7:

     19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
     21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

We are saved not by anything we do, because we will just make a mess of things. We are saved by God and God alone. Just as Jonah was saved by the “great fish,” so we are saved through the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. When death seemed inevitable God rescued us from the bondage of death. We cannot save ourselves. Salvation comes only from God.