7 Meanwhile, the sailors said to each other, “Come on, let’s cast lots so that we might learn who is to blame for this evil that’s happening to us.” They cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they said to him, “Tell us, since you’re the cause of this evil happening to us: What do you do and where are you from? What’s your country and of what people are you?”
9 He said to them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of heaven—who made the sea and the dry land.”
10 Then the men were terrified and said to him, “What have you done?” (The men knew that Jonah was fleeing from the Lord, because he had told them.)
11 They said to him, “What will we do about you so that the sea will become calm around us?” (The sea was continuing to rage.)
12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea! Then the sea will become calm around you. I know it’s my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
13 The men rowed to reach dry land, but they couldn’t manage it because the sea continued to rage against them. 14 So they called on the Lord, saying, “Please, Lord, don’t let us perish on account of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for innocent blood! You are the Lord: whatever you want, you can do.” 15 Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased its raging. 16 The men worshipped the Lord with a profound reverence; they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made solemn promises (Jonah 1:7-16, Common English Bible).
Most children who have grown up attending Sunday school and church have at least a little knowledge of Jonah’s story though they may not know this early part of the story. Jonah is trying to run from God. In fact, Jonah is trying to run the opposite direction from where God wants him to go. Perhaps Jonah thought God wouldn’t be in Tarshish and he would be off the hook.
At sea, with a storm raging around them, the ship’s crew was scared. They woke Jonah to pray so it seems to me he wasn’t really very worried. But, by the end of today’s reading, Jonah admits to the crew he is the reason for the storm and tells them to throw him into the sea. Reluctantly they do just that and the storm calms.
I know a thing or two about being on a ship in a raging sea, though I must admit, the ship I was on, I am sure was much larger than the ship on which Jonah found himself. Still, 20-foot seas in the North Sea or tropical storm force winds, huge waves, and a torrential downpour can be pretty frightening. I experienced both during my time in the Navy. I get why the crew of Jonah’s ship were frightened.
Many of us on the Texas Gulf coast experienced the storm during Hurricane Havey. People in Florida experienced the storm during Hurricane Irma. People in Puerto Rico experienced the storm during Hurrican Maria. That was the literal storm. Since then, in all three cases, the storm continues as people work to muck out, clean up, rebuild, and get on with life. For some, it happens faster than others, but all continue to work through the figurative storm.
Another figurative storm happened last night in Las Vegas as a well-armed gunman, Stephen Paddock, from a high hotel window opened fire on a huge crowd of concertgoers. As of this writing, 59 people are dead and more than 500 wounded. There may have been no rain or wind or flooding, but make no mistake, this was a storm.
There may have been no rain or wind or flooding, but make no mistake, this was a storm. It was a storm of bullets descending on innocent people who could do nothing really to protect themselves. It was also a storm of panic as many of the same people ran for cover anywhere they could find it in order to survive.
Unlike Jonah’s story, in the case of the three hurricane’s, it was no one’s fault. It was a weather phenomenon that brought devastation to millions of people. Weather events happen. They are unfortunate, but to blame others is a waste of time and energy.
I fully anticipate that in the next few days we will hear someone say the events in Las Vegas are God’s vengeance on the decadent lifestyle of Las Vegas or something to that effect.
In all these cases, make no mistake, this was not God. In Jonah’s story, we know by Jonah’s own admission, he was at fault, not God. In the case of the hurricanes, God set certain rules into motion during creation. When oceans get too hot, God made a very effective way to cool the ocean, a hurricane. And in the case of Las Vegas, the blame is squarely on the shoulders of one man, Stephen Paddock, who, in the end, took his own life as so many of these shooters do.
I love the Leslie Gould quote, “Sometimes God calms the storm, but sometimes God lets the storm rage and calms His child.” I also believe we have seen it in action in all these tragic events.
First responders, while the hurricanes were still blowing out working to help people in need. Private citizens, wading through bacteria-infested waters, often with dangerous animals in the water, working to rescue people stranded. People giving sacrificially to aid in the clean-up and rebuilding. We have witnessed all that and more. There had to be some amount of fear in all of them, but God calmed the fear, the storm inside them so they could go to work doing the things needing to be done.
Last night in Las Vegas, while the bullets were still falling, people risked their lives to help others get to safety. First responders came in before the gunman turned his gun on himself, and entered the storm to make a difference for people.
I do believe God was there in every case and eventually, the storm calmed. But, before the storm did calm, God calmed the storm in many of His children and they responded.
To all those who helped, thank you for what you did. Whether you know it or not, you were and still are, God’s hands and feet in the midst of the storm. You made a difference and you make us proud.
My prayer for each of us today, is, may God first keep us from these terrible situations. But, should we find ourselves there, I also pray God will calm the storm in us so even in the midst of tragedy, we too can be God’s hands and feet when they are needed most.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Thankfulness,