|Jonah and the “great fish” on the South doorway of Dom Saint Peter
Image source: Wikipedia
I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with the story of Jonah. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to prophesy against their wickedness. But Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He was afraid to prophesy in a foreign land full of wicked people who hated Hebrews. Plus, he didn’t want God to show mercy to his enemies. So he ran. But he couldn’t escape God, who in His Great Wisdom made a whale swallow Jonah until Jonah was able to see the error of his ways and continue more willingly on God’s path.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jonah recently. So I was surprised when a coworker jokingly compared ringing at the registers of our bookstore as her “Nineveh.” She added “but if God told me to go to Nineveh, I would go.” I half jokingly answered “then perhaps you haven’t found your Nineveh yet.” (She looked a bit taken aback. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut.)
I think we all have a personal Nineveh (even those of us who are agnostic or atheist). Some of us have more Nineveh than others. Recently, I have found a Nineveh. It’s a personal issue, and I don’t think the details matter for this post…but the basic idea is this: I have a series of choices that I feel God has encouraged me to make. I don’t like those choices, because I’m very much afraid of getting hurt. After much prayer, I decided to go ahead and have faith and make the plunge. It backfired in my face, I got hurt, I hurt someone else, and it all seems to be spiraling downhill from here.
I am faced with two interpretations: I can assume that I foolishly mislead myself with wrong expectations; or I can have faith that God led me down this path, that He had a reason to do so, and that some good will come of it.
Neither interpretation is inherently wrong as a Christian. Lots of people mislead themselves into thinking they’re doing what God wants them to do when they’re really doing what they want to do. Easy mistake to make. And with this interpretation, I can safely backpedal out of the situation I’ve created and abandon the path that I’d foolishly chosen. (Yeah, it leaves a mess behind, but …. woops! my bad!) Unfortunately, losing faith in myself isn’t too healthy. If I choose this interpretation, then I need to believe that I don’t really know when God is calling me and when He’s not. Because I was pretty darn certain He was calling. And if that wasn’t God calling me, then I’m probably a little crazy and certainly can never have faith in my interpretation of God’s call again. So it seems like a good choice, as long as I’m ok with losing faith in myself and in God.
The second interpretation is more scary. It means I have to continue on the path I’d chosen, having faith that I was, indeed, hearing God’s call, and that if He got me into this mess, something good must come of it.
I haven’t yet chosen which of these interpretations to make, and am fluctuating a lot lately. But my instinct tells me that as a Christian I ought to believe that God was calling me, and that he’s still calling me to follow that path. The path to Nineveh. Where I really, really, really don’t want to go.
And while I wallow in self-doubt, as well as religious doubt, let’s not forget that Jesus asked God to take away the burden of His chosen path: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 NIV, see also Luke 22:42). Let’s not forget one of Jesus’ last statements on the cross: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Mathew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. He was quoting Psalm 22.).
Jesus, that miraculous man who is loved by millions of people even 2000 years after his death, also had a path he didn’t want to follow. He also had his moments of doubt. Doubt is human. None of us should ever forget this fact when we are struggling with our own doubts. We need to always remember that we are human. That doubt is natural.
Always accept that you are human – that even Jesus doubted – and forgive yourself for your weaknesses. That is the best way to restore your faith.