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Minister’s Message: The depths of God’s love

Jonah wasn’t expecting a whale, but one found him anyway

By Joshua Gorenflo

A few weeks ago I took the cruise out of Seward for the first time to get a glimpse of our beautiful peninsula from a perspective I’ve not seen before. Creation came out in all her splendor. The sun warmed my face, even as the wind took my breath away. At one point the boat idled out in calm waters and we were told to keep our eyes peeled for orcas.

As we scanned the horizons with anticipation, I was reminded of the biblical prophet Jonah. Our boat was expecting a whale and never found one. Jonah wasn’t expecting a whale, but one found him anyway.

It’s a funny story, Jonah’s. Here’s this guy who is told by God to go and share good news to his enemies, because God wants to do something new, something hopeful for people who have been oppressive, and He wants to use Jonah to do it. But Jonah isn’t having it, so he takes a ship in the opposite direction, fast as he can go.

Here’s where it gets good.

A storm hits, the crew cries out for their lives, and Jonah volunteers to get thrown overboard in order to stop the madness. I suspect he thinks he’ll just die out in the sea, which still beats the alternative of having to carry out God’s command. Instead, God sends a giant fish to swallow Jonah and all his reluctance, carry him back East where he’s meant to go and spit him up on dry land. Probably to his chagrin.

Jonah sort of gets his act together and actually does what God tells him to do, but he isn’t happy about it. In fact, once he goes through the motions, he finds the nearest hillside, pops some popcorn, and awaits the oncoming wrath of God to take place. It doesn’t happen and Jonah asks for his money back. God gives him a plant to shade him in his wallowing and Jonah throws a fit when the plant withers, revealing how much more Jonah cares about this plant than he does a whole city of people. The story ends with God asking Jonah an open-ended question that kind of seems like He’s asking it to all of us reading the story.

Waiting for those whales out in Resurrection Bay, it was far too easy for me to connect with Jonah. I feel every bit as confused about God’s directive for my life sometimes. I know what it is like to turn in the opposite direction, only to be brought around to the path I have been trying to avoid all along. I still find myself wrestling with God about all the wrong things. I am gaining proficiency in missing the point.

Yet while the story of Jonah often gets associated with whales, it is actually about a God who loves and cares for all people. Even enemies. Even us, in all our reluctant, disobedient obstinance. And not even the depths of the sea will stop His pursuit.

Joshua Gorenflo and his wife, Kya, are ministers at Kenai Fellowship, Mile 8.5 on the Kenai Spur Highway. Worship is 11 a.m. on Sundays. Streamed live at kenaifellowship.com.

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