Monday, October 08, 2012

Productive use of one's time

Anybody who attended Sunday school in their childhood is probably familiar with the story of Jonah. He was an Old Testament prophet who God called to preach repentance to the people of the city of Nineveh, capital of Assyria. Rather than obeying God's commands, he boards a ship to Tarshish, which is in the opposite direction to Nineveh. The ship is caught in a storm, and the crew casts lots and determine that Jonah is the problem. They throw him overboard, and he is swallowed by a great fish. He spends 3 days and 3 nights in its belly, repents of his sin to God, and the fish spits him out on dry land. When he reaches the city, he preaches the message that God gave him. The entire city repents and turns to God. However, rather than being pleased, Jonah complains to God about this. He is angry that rather than destroying the Ninevites, God showed them compassion. Jonah humbly learns his lesson when God uses a wind, a plant, and a worm to teach him that He is merciful.

Here I partially draw on the thoughts of  Dr Phil Fernandes of the Institute of Biblical Defense. As an aside, apparently in Biblical times a whale was considered to be a fish and not an aquatic mammal. The sea creature that swallowed Jonah after he was thrown overboard is described as a "great fish." Some critics who question the veracity of the Jonah story hold that it is impossible for a human being to be swallowed by a fish and survive for any length of time inside its stomach. Dr Fernandes referred to a story of a nineteenth century whaler being swallowed by a whale. The whale was later caught, and the man cut of its stomach. He was still alive, but his skin was bleached white and bodily hair dissolved from its stomach acids. I don't know if this story is true. Even so, Jesus referred to Jonah (Matthew 12:39-42, Luke 11:29-32). Jesus must be taken at his word, so therefore it must have happened. Jonah's experience symbolically  foreshadowed Jesus's death and resurrection.

Jonah shows us the consequences of disobeying God. God gave Jonah a clear command, but he disobeyed it. In the end, after he repented, God gave him a second chance. In the same way, He will also give a second chance to truly repentant disobedient Christians. Too many Christians these days take their salvation for granted, and think that God is obligated to forgive their sins, so they can live however they like. While it's impossible for us to live sinless lives on this side of eternity, the Holy Spirit enables us to live lives that honour God, and we cannot do that in our own power. We should live each day in humble reliance upon His grace and mercy.

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