“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
— John Chrysostom
Scripture focus: Jonah 1:4-6
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, and we will not perish.”
Any god in a storm
You have probably heard the saying “any port in a storm,” meaning that, in difficult circumstances, we may have to settle for choosing from alternatives that we consider less than ideal. In this focus passage of scripture, God sent a mighty tempest that endangered the ship upon which Jonah was attempting to flee from him. Such was the panic of the desperate crew that each man cried out to the god of his own cultural tradition, seeking to be saved from the violence of the wind and the waves. No doubt, the men believed that the more gods they appealed to for help, the better; surely one of these deities would have the power and the will to preserve their lives.
Jonah, on the other hand, ostensibly a follower of the one true God, tried to ignore the Almighty by hiding himself away below deck and falling “into a deep sleep”, making himself both literally and figuratively unconscious of God’s attempt to get his attention. Oddly enough, it is the ship’s captain who acknowledges God’s power to save when he exclaims to Jonah, “Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish!”
It is interesting to note in this passage that “ all of the sailors” recognize the need for a savior, but don’t know to whom they should cry out. Even today, aboard this ship we call Planet Earth, there are still countless souls who are yet unacquainted with our God. Millions around the world (and even in our own country) have never heard the good news of the gospel. Others refuse to acknowledge God’s existence based on events they see playing out in an unjust world on a daily basis, and many have rejected him due to negative experiences related to a church or to less-than-positive interactions with people who self-identify as Christian. It is no wonder that it is such a challenge for human beings to believe that there is a God who loves them unconditionally and wants to be in a restored relationship with them.
When fear, anxiety, tragedy, loss, or similar emotions and situations threaten to overwhelm us, we, like Jonah, know that the God we serve, the one true God, is powerful and able to help. Yet, so often we try to take matters into our own hands rather than relying on the only one who can truly rescue us. This is especially true when dependence upon God means giving up our attempts to control what happens to us. It is not always easy to trust that God knows what he is doing when he sets our course along a path we might not have chosen to travel.
This season of Lent encourages us to meditate upon and acknowledge who God is and who we are in relation to him. It is so clear that we are a people much in need of saving, and that our attempts to depend upon “any god in a storm” simply will not do.
We thank you for the gift of relationship with You - You who are the true God in the midst of any storm. Please continue to curb our need to control all that is around us, and teach us to trust in You completely.