The message of Jonah applies even to our modern times, particularly in Christian circles.
Most everyone is familiar with the story of the prophet Jonah, and how he was swallowed by a big fish, only to escape three days later. Studying Scripture is always worthwhile, and I recommend everyone go (re-)read the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. It will take you all of seven minutes.
What I will attempt to do today is to apply the message of Jonah to our current, pro-life struggles. What follows are loose analogies, which I hope spur us to be more active in the pro-life effort.
OVERVIEW OF THE STORY OF JONAH
“Jonah was a prophet, who never really got it,” as one popular Christian group puts it. ((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qLhAdA5ZXI))
Jonah had to learn to obey God, reluctant as he was. For, God commanded Jonah to go to the capital city of Assyria, his people’s enemy, in order to preach a message of repentance (verse 1:2). Instead, Jonah fled and did not obey, finding a ship to sail him far away from Nineveh (1:3).
Yet, God was not to be denied, sending a violent storm upon the ship, in anger against Jonah (1:4-5). The ship’s captain had to go below to find Jonah, who was fast asleep, in order to urge him to pray they all be spared death from this storm (1:5-6). Rather than repent on the spot for his disobedience to the Lord, Jonah later had the crew cast him overboard, knowing the storm was sent for him alone (1:11-12).
Likely thinking God would end his life upon being cast into the violent waves, Jonah was surprised to find a fish, sent by God, swallowed him up instead (1:17). He remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights (1:17). Upon praying in thanksgiving for deliverance, Jonah is expelled by the fish, and God orders him to go to Nineveh a second time (3:2).
This time Jonah obeys, preaching repentance to his idol-worshiping enemies (3:3-4). Surprisingly, the entire city, including the king, repents and fasts, hoping to spare God’s wrath (3:5-9). God sees their change of heart, has mercy on them, and does not punish them (3:10).
Rather than be happy for his enemies, Jonah is displeased exceedingly and angry (4:1). In fact, Jonah wishes to die, leading to a conversation between him and the Lord. The Lord, in an effort to teach Jonah a simple lesson, causes a plant to grow near Jonah to give him shade from the sun and to ease his discomfort (4:6). Jonah appreciates the relief, but then God takes it away (4:6-7). This causes Jonah to become upset again (4:8-9).
God reminds him that he did nothing to plant or to grow that plant, and yet Jonah became attached to it, even becoming saddened when it died (4:9-10). God says that’s similar to His own feelings toward the 120,000 people in Nineveh (4:11). God describes them as not knowing their right hand from their left, and yet He pities them, not wanting them to miss an opportunity to repent of their evil ways (4:11).
What can we take away from the message of Jonah? Let us mention three lessons.
LESSON #1 – OVERCOME YOUR RELUCTANCY TO GET INVOLVED
In this case, be wise and learn from Jonah’s mistakes. Not only did Jonah run away from God’s calling on his life, but he also was found asleep during a crisis. He had to be awoken from his slumber to realize that other people’s lives were at stake. Thankfully he came to his senses enough to realize he had the power to put an end to the peril others had found themselves in. Jonah may not have valued his own life, but at least he spared the lives of his shipmates.
The parallel to the pro-life movement, and particularly to the sidewalk counseling ministry, should be obvious. Let us not run from the challenges this movement poses. Let us not remain asleep while other people’s lives are in danger each day to the slaughter of abortion.
Of course, for those of us who do serve in the pro-life movement, unlike Jonah in his moment of weakness, we do value our own lives. We see our lives as a gift from the Lord, and we want to see everyone have the opportunity to be born and to lead virtuous lives. Thus, we must step into the breach, and be advocates for the voiceless, vulnerable, preborn.
The abortion holocaust can end, and we cannot forget that. If anyone is reluctant to get involved because he does not expect his efforts to amount to much help, then they need to think again. Look how God used Jonah to convert the hearts and minds of 120,000 people at once!
The message of Jonah is one filled with irony. First the sailors and then later the Assyrians are all so quick to recognize the power of God and the need to serve him, once confronted with the gravity of the situation (1:16; 3:6-9). And yet, Jonah, who claims to be the one serving the Lord, does not practice God as he ought to. Let that not be said of us.
LESSON #2 – NO SINNER IS FORGOTTEN BY GOD
Jonah was a patriot. The Assyrians were harsh towards his people, the Israelites, and Jonah thought they ought to be punished by God. And yet, Jonah knows God is gracious, merciful, and slow to anger (4:2). Thus, Jonah explains towards the end of the book that he knew there was a good chance the people of Nineveh would be repentant and forgiven by God. Jonah did not even want the Assyrians to receive the opportunity to repent.
Let this not be true of us. Let us not become so calloused and hard-heartened towards those who conduct abortions, or who procure abortions that we write them off. In my years in the pro-life ministry, I have encountered a few folks who seem to take delight in the thought of what will be coming to those caught up in abortion who do not repent. The abortionists themselves are often described with harsh language, even as monsters.
Yes, certainly, what abortionists and their staff members carry out remains heinous and diabolical. But let not our hearts move all the way to hatred.
Instead, let us remember our Lord’s words that those whose many sins are forgiven, loves much; whereas those who are forgiven little, love little. Let us remember that we, too, are sinners, and we ought to be grateful that God does not punish us as we deserve, but has mercy on us all (cf. Psalm 103:10-12). Broadly speaking, the message of Jonah is one of compassion… towards the sinners.
LESSON #3 – WE MUST EXTEND EVERYONE THE OPPORTUNITY TO REPENT
Envious of the blessings from God the Assyrians received, Jonah just could not face up to God’s way of doing things. Where God wanted to give the people of Nineveh an opportunity to repent, Jonah was bent on justice being exacted on his enemies.
In another twist of irony, Jonah was originally called by God to Nineveh to root out their wickedness (ra’ah in Hebrew) (1:2). But then ra’ah follows Jonah due to his disobedience. The “evil” or “calamity” of the storm that hits the ship is ra’ah in the Hebrew. What’s more, Jonah experiences ra’ah following the repentance of Nineveh (4:1 and 4:6).
In other words, God wished for Jonah to be the one to root out the destruction and wickedness caused by the people of Nineveh. Yet, his envy prevented him from answering the call first, bringing destruction upon him at sea. And his envy prevented him from being joyful for God regaining the Assyrians, as the story seems to end with Jonah exhibiting wickedness for his attitude.
This speaks to the importance of sidewalk counseling outside abortion centers and abortion-referral centers. We must give those who practice this lifestyle the opportunity for repentance. Remember, although God held the Assyrians responsible for their actions (1:2), God still considered them morally foolish for just how evil they had been acting (4:11).
Likewise, many of those who practice a lifestyle of promiscuity, fornication, adultery, contraception use, pornography viewing, and abortion procuring could likely be considered morally ignorant of their destructive ways, as well. Not to say they are not morally culpable, but simple that they do not realize the degree to which they violate the Natural Law and divine law.
By meeting them where they are at—literally at the door to the pit of hell, in the case of an abortion center—we sidewalk conselors can extend them mercy. We can offer them a chance to turn back, from their wickedness and their destructive ways.
Even for those clients of abortion referral centers who are coming for a box of condoms or STD testing, we have something to offer them, as well. We can be there to invite them to repent of that lifestyle, and to embrace chastity instead.
It may appear to be a daunting task. Perhaps we will rescue just one soul at a time, and that would be worth all the effort, for each soul is of infinite value, for it costs only the Blood of the Savior, the God-man.
Or perhaps, despite our reluctance, God might have something bigger in store. After all, as the message of Jonah proves, with God, all things are possible. If God can use a reluctant, disobedient prophet to covert the hearts of 120,000 idol-worshipers, who violated the very First Commandment, He can surely use any one of us to bring about massive conversions for violations of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments.
Do you agree there is something for the pro-life community, and Christians at large, to learn from the message of Jonah?
Please leave your comments below.