“Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship…the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried to the Lord…” —Jonah 1:4-5, 13-14
“Love is a many splendid thing,” so we say. One of the “splintery” splendors of love is its willingness to do the hard thing; to act counter-intuitively, to push and prod, and nudge another person, if necessary, even to the edge of despair, in order to rescue them. After all, it doesn’t FEEL very loving to inflict pain, or to function as a conduit for unrest to flow into another person’s life. For this reason, love must often act and speak at the great risk of misunderstanding, rejection, even hatred in response.
We can see the violent nature in which God is loving Jonah and a boat full of pagan sailors, as he (God) utterly dismantles their confidence in themselves and their false gods. It’s astonishing how tightly these men cling to self-reliance and idol worship, initially calling out to their own gods, and then trying to save themselves by human wisdom (lightening the ship), and human effort (rowing back to land). “But (recalls Jonah) they could not…then they cried to the Lord…”
I’m reminded of a very dear friend, Mr. Robert Tsai, who, for much of his life, saw no need for God. He embraced the god of the west; himself. He was a successful business man, a multi-millionaire, and impressively self-reliant, that is, until the day he was struck with terminal cancer. As all the best of modern and ancient medicine failed him, he began to turn to the gods of his ancestors; visiting temples, offering up prayers and burning incense. His family and our church kept praying for him, and kept sharing the gospel. For the longest, he resisted. But I’ll never forget the day Mr. Robert showed up at my office and said, “I’m ready to trust God.” It was a sacred moment to hear him cry out to God, in his own words, from his own honest sense of desperation, and find salvation in the One who splendidly causes and calms rough storms in our lives. I had the privilege of baptizing my friend on Easter Sunday, and the last sermon I preached in Taiwan, was his funeral. I’m looking forward to the day when I’ll, once again, be warmed by Mr. Robert’s enchanting smile!
Sharing the gospel often seems counter-intuitive, in our day of renewed pluralism and tolerance, as we seek to gently, discerningly, compassionately push, jolt, undermine, and fundamentally ship-wreck another person’s worldview; bringing them to the brink of despair, to the end of trusting in themselves and their respective gods, and to the beginning of calling upon the name of the Lord.
I watched this drama unfold in the life of my lil’ brother, Bradley. He grew up in a non-Christian home that worshipped his ancestors. It was painful for him and I, and others involved, over the course of many months, as we had those hard conversations (often around the dinner table) concerning ideas, beliefs, and world views. His mom would call regularly, forbidding him to become a Christian. He was in turmoil. We were holding our breath, in prayer.
And then, one quiet day, Bradley posted on Facebook, “Today was my John 3:16 day.” Now, he’s teaching his mom the gospel (good news), she’s asking questions, and the violent winds of redeeming love continue to blow.
Every single day, every single one of us, like Jonah, desperately need the winds of the gospel to gust anew in our lives. We’re like busy little spiders, ever spinning our flimsy webs of self-reliance and idolatry. God knows just how hard to howl to whisk away the webs in each of our lives, and to keep our trust firmly anchored in Him, who alone can save.
How are the winds of God’s love blowing in your life?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” —John 3:16