Riding the Big Fish
The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.)
Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant.
God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.
Jonah is my favorite Prophet. It is partly because the book of Jonah is only 4 chapters long so it's an extremely quick read. I have always been a fan of brevity. It's mostly because Jonah sticks out to me in ways the other prophets do not:
In the Christian church in America there are three growing groups. First, there are dying churches. It seems more and more churches are on the decline. Of those churches on the decline, there are a growing number that have been damaged in some way. I'm not going to spend my time explaining the damage, just to say, the damage happens in all kinds of ways, and may or may not be the churches fault. If not dealt with, the church can do one or both of these things. It can create a second growing group, broken Christians.
This is a growing group that is really difficult to see. We have spent the past 30-50 years insulating ourselves inside the building, we don't understand what we look like outside the building. Broken Christians do. Not only do they feel isolated and unwelcome by the church, but their time outside of the building necessarily changes them. They begin to see the church differently. They are given secular eyes, and it makes it impossible to ever return to what they once knew. This is one of those situations where only those on the outside know what I am talking about.
The third group are broken ministers. You would think seminaries would prepare ministers to enter these damaged institutions like a caring doctor seeing a patient. This is not the case. Seminaries are way behind educating future clergy for the world they will enter. While we might talk about family systems, and passive aggression, we are completely unprepared for the war-zone we are entering upon ordination. When those broken systems end up breaking us, some of us go on to knowingly or unknowingly break other churches or congregants. Some of us lick our wounds and get out of the game for good. Then there are those like me.
The third group of ministers seek healing and then are called to heal the brokenness. Sometimes the minister has enough sense to get out of the game for a bit to heal. I am a bit more impulsive and wanted to get right back in. Therefore, I found myself in my own metaphorical fish, forced to heal before I would be spit out and given my call. It was not fun, but it was needed. Many of us are called back to the church. With our eyes opened we re-enter the institution and begin healing the broken systems. Then there is me. This was not the direction I thought all this would go. The internet is the proverbial Nineveh. There are many cruel voices out there. It's like we forget there are actual people reading our words.
I see with those broken congregants eyes. I can't go back. I'm here. I'm here because I've been through it, and I'm healing. I am also forever changed.
The book of Jonah ends rather abruptly. Jonah complains how God spared the Ninevites, and God rebukes Jonah by killing a bush. (Yeah, I kinda simplified things.) Then it just ends. What happens to Jonah? Does he go back to his initial home? I would think it would be very difficult for him to go home. Can you imagine the conversation with me:
"So Jonah, where have you been?"
"Nineveh. I told them to turn from their ways or face God's wrath."
"Did God smite Nineveh?!"
"Nope. They are in God's good grace now."
Considering how poorly Nineveh had treated the people of Israel, I couldn't imagine the people would be very pleased to know what Jonah was a part of. Would he even be welcomed back home?
I'd like to think, after all Jonah had been through, he was forever changed. Instead of heading back to Israel, he set up shop in Nineveh. Together, they began to understand what it meant to know God in Nineveh. Together, they grew in faith.