This semester I am part of a “Listening to God’s Word” group at the college. The idea of the group is not simply Bible Study, but rather to take seriously that God speaks to his people through his Word when we pay attention and listen. The group meets weekly, reads the Biblical text and reflects on what God is saying, first to the original reader or hearer, and then to us as we listen today.
This semester we are listening through the “Book of Jonah.” Sometimes we are surprised at the whispers of God through his word. Last week in chapter 1, someone listened and for the first time noticed that Jonah had no problem falling asleep in the boat as he was fleeing from God. She noted that he must have had some level of peace to fall asleep. She was hearing God say, “Peace may not in itself indicate that everything is right and good in your relationship with him or in general.” She went on to share that often she hears people saying they have “peace” about things, so it must be God’s will. Listening to God’s Word calls that thinking into question for her.
As I read chapter 1, I was amazed to hear and notice something I never noted before: men of diverse backgrounds, religions and lives having loving, caring, and gracious conversation. Perhaps this came to my awareness as I contrast it with the current culture that I find myself in where such conversations are rare.
We are introduced in Jonah, chapter 1, verse 5 to some mariners, sailors, who appropriately responded with fear toward a mighty storm. It must have been quite mighty, as sailors must have had some prior experience with such weather events at sea. In their fear, they cry out to their own gods, indicating that they have different gods, religions, and faiths in what might best save them in their time of need. When they come upon Jonah sleeping they invite him to pray to his God, since their prayers don’t seem to be working too well.
As the story unfolds, they discover that Jonah is to blame for their circumstances. Blame is such a wonderful thing, it allows us to wipe our hands of things, cast the responsibility to someone else and even take out our anger upon them. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not the plot of this story. Here we have sailors, who rather than looking for a scapegoat, ask Jonah questions to gain understanding (verse 8). Even when they hear from the scapegoat himself that they can throw him overboard and live, the sailors work toward the survival of all in the boat. It is only after great lengths that they submit to Jonah’s word to toss him into the sea, and then only with a prayer.
Listening to God’s Word can be surprising. As I’ve been listening in our group, I’ve been challenged by God to seek ways to have loving, caring, and gracious conversations that might move all involved to deliverance and good things. Sure seems like something God might want to say to his Church, his Children, and a culture where listening and graciousness can be hard to find.