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GREAT THINGS HAPPEN IN THE DEPTHS
Not gaping but Agape is needed,
Not truancy but Truth
The debunking of The Lie, as Romans 1 calls it, the attempt to make God unfit to survive in the mental mirages of unbelief, has been a matter of some note, verging on comedy. It has no less been filled with practical tragedy, as wanton, wilful and power assisted by no small self-interested spiritual forces, it has basked in the darkness, as if unaware. Such dynamic of evil has even attempted the subversion of heaven (Revelation 12), though with the same success as their irrationality has in its domain: the devil is not dim, in mind, though it is dimmed in comparison with the light, from which he tends to hide his face in shame, as if the adoption of the I-am-not-there myth so frequently attests (cf. II Corinthians 2:11). His way, it is a null route, a dull one, but it has a lively result in the impact of its spiritual death (Revelation 19-20), more decisive than anything to be found in its alienated life, which by blurred distinctions, anomaly, antithesis and antilogy (cf. Deity and Design ... 8) has sought from meagre minimality, to maximise self-expansion.
After all, taking over the universe, whether directly or by spiritual assassins (they did not hesitate too long before killing the incarnate word of God, when once for the first and the last time He came at the date specified*1), is ambitious, and many are those who would like to take over God's property by creation, the land of a chosen people, Israel, by decimation, bit by bit, and His salvation, by substitution.
There inability does not prevent a soaring spiritual temperature, or endless intrigue; and their patent failure the more enhances their gamble, as they gambol with truth, toss reality to the skies and sink to the depth under the sheer weight of their uplifted endeavours.
There are these two stark divisions within mankind, these two orientations, in which guile and deception, confusion and deviousness, worthy of the devil, move; and truth does not. It is not however as classically decisive as mathematics, in its division, for at times there are little lapses, and the burning first of his signature hand by Archbishop Cranmer, before the fire finally allowed the papal putsch to consume his body, is a good exemplification of the cost of even temporary failure. The form is one thing, and the challenge is another; and at times, there is a costly battle before final triumph.
Thus, the issue is not always total in every respect, for this world is not only a test, but a training camp.
While then, the two divisions of humanity are clear-cut in name and deliberately different in status, stature and reality, those for Christ and those against Him (and leaving Him be is rejecting His imperative - Luke 13:1-3), yet at times there can be a temporary reversion, as in a fruit tree on an alien stock, or a stumble on the part of an athlete. Perfection is not to be found in any human being now on this earth, nor is its pinnacle in any danger of toppling by some new entrant.
The redeemed are newly built, dynamised and directed, but at times there pride, or negligence, irresonsibility of the moment, dulness or torpor which comes like drowsiness can lead to faults such as that for which, on one occasion, David is famous (it lasted several weeks in intent), or Peter (it lasted several hours, when he denied the Christ, though not for so long when he was busy suggesting to the Lord, an obviation of this cross stuff - Matthew 16:22-23), as is John Mark for his initial missionary failure and King Jehoshaphat for his efforts at co-operation with the godless King Ahab to his North, nearly costing him his life, as is the parallel case now with so many who tend to stay where wickedness dwells, in bodies still using the name 'church', but in fact showing a complete liberty to deny deity itself in Christ, morals in life, as the Bible insists, and the rules of affiliation, only with the faithful.
Jonah gives an excellent example of someone who though deep in his commitment to the Lord, and close to Him, yet declined, like grapes with mildew, for a few days, and set to one side, all thought for the time being, of doing what the Lord sent him to achieve.
The Lie can take over the unredeemed; but elements of its spiritual radioactivity, in an image, may dull the health and invest the life of the wandering Christian, for a time that has the bell of beauty which should chime continually, sound like a thud on mud instead. The work FOR salvation, to confer it, is completely done by Christ already (Hebrews 9, Ephesians 2), but in terms of living out the gift, there is scope for discipline, if not self-discipline, then admonishment to awake the inert from their slumber, to jar the jaunting or to arrest the declining from their dizzy dynamic. How COULD Moses strike the rock with the "must we" bring out water, and do so twice! Yet he did. It was not long, that lapse, but it was so imposing in its self-affirmation, that it was intolerable to truth.
It is not with nothing we deal, in following the Lord, and though the thing is dead logically, which would deny Him, accursed spiritually, in that it devises mock ways to avoid mercy, seeking through diverse preoccupations to allay conscience and attenuate folly, and a wasteland morally, lusting contrary to design for what is but air, presumption and imagination, it has bite to the end, till its doom is total. We do not deal only with logic, but with life, which however wisely directed, must stand the test, meet the challenge in practice as well as in mind, in spirit as well as in purpose and in the beauty of holiness as well as in wisdom.
In this, you see the scope and coverage of divine wisdom, and the tests for all their rigour, which they sometimes have, as persecutions rage like flagrant bush-fires set purposely by spiritual (or even literal) arsonists, are found to be both searching and revelatory. It is like an aircraft wind-tunnel at times: the test is directed to find weakness, that it be corrected. There is no lack of realism in Him who by creation made the world and man upon it, and set both love and trial, test and truth, perspicuity and scope for confusion, amid the soaring spirit of man.
Heaven will have no false numbers.
Let us then examine the case of Jonah with these things in mind. Although the evil and the error had a VERY limited shelf-life in Jonah, since he WAS the LORD'S, yet its efforts to move him has both dire consequences and a brilliant wisdom in the way the Lord turned even this to the fulfulment of his love, even THROUGH Jonah. He is very deep, and knows what He is doing.
HIS ACTIONS THAT SAID NO TO GOD
Jonah is very like the figure who as metaphorical beloved or bride in Song of Solomon Ch. 5, heard the voice of the beloved, there with dew on his brow from His work in the night, when He came to her doore. Yet she felt it too much to dirty her feet by walking over to the door, to let him in. She was composed, comfortable and clean in bed. So she did not at first respond. Her heart yearned for him, we read, but there was a certain self-indulgent delay.
When she DID respond, a little later, he was not there! She had a trial and much trouble before she found him once again! It did however lead to quite a testimony, as she told those to whom she spoke the reason why it mattered so much to her, to find him, and what he was like! (Song of Solomon 5:10ff. cf. The Song).
Since, as shown in The Song, this is a figure for Christ on the one hand, and the Christian or the Church on the other, it speaks volumes about spiritual delay, or decline, of being self-possessed instead of Christ-alert. Such appears to have been the case with Jonah.
He knew the Lord. What a privilege this was. It involves knowing whence you came, where you are going, who is He who goes with you, His promises and privileges, His purity, the truth, His peace and joy, the vitality of life uninhibited by underlying death penalty or degradation without cease till the corpse is its consummation, with the spirit estranged. This comes, that goes. Like air and sunshine as blessings, it is easy to forget the blessing of Himself, if your heart hardens, your head thickens or your blood stirs.
Jonah had a bad episode. He became ... what ? obstreperous ? touchy ? cowardly ? too absorbed in contentment ?
He was sent on mission; but he refused to go; and he did not even leave a note. He just occupied himself with other things. If the mind is busy, perhaps the heart will not speak ? How many thousands or millions have used this gambit in losing a chess game with the Almighty! Jonah apparently liked the sea in its immensity and moods, and taking his own mood with him, he went on a voyage, paying his fare, and hoping to forsake care. Soon he lay asleep deep in the ship. Like one of the foolish virgins in the Matthew 25 parable, he seemed willing to let his light go out, but perhaps it had not consciously come to that: he preferred not to think about it. Was not the sea rocking him, the air fresh, the change stimulating, the escape complete, and could not slumber perfect it.
So do many, while naming the name of Christ, avoid duty, forsake responsibility, act as if they had never heard of team-work for Christ, and becoming increasingly de-sensitised to the commandments, look for content in food or drink or vacation or sport or affairs or anything sufficiently absorbing to stop a disquieted mind and a concerned spirit from surfacing with any force.
They live as in a mountain hut in a valley, with their own surrounds enclosing them, neither feeling the need nor the necessity of anything outside their immediate preference. If you challenge them, they become irritated or blustering, or gloweringly inward, or dismissive. They LIKE it this way. As they burrow deeper and deeper into the midst of the earth, deep mists increasing as they expose themselves to more and more vicissitudes, they gradually show one of two things. EITHER they wake up as from a dream turned night-mare and live, or else they slumber on until they are buried. The children of God are moved to the former, and pretenders and artificial followers end the other way!
Jonah was in the former category, and it is instructive to follow the way he awakened. The gentle rocking by the enticing seas soon became a blustering mockery by masterful winds and massive waves.
HIS IMPENDING RUIN
The storm came up, sudden and increasingly vigorous. The Captain cried out to him, What do you mean sleeping in such a time! Thus in the sleep of spiritual seduction, many are the forces which seek to limit the damage and end the fling. Call on your God, he said, and perhaps He will deliver us.
To be asked by someone perhaps not even knowing God, to call on your God becomes the humiliation of unholiness. There you are, buried by pure wilfulness in the depths of your experiences, amid those who live by their pleasures and preferences. What you know as your basis of hope or meaning may be temporarily obscured, and you have to be reminded in the midst of trouble, of your blind spot, now growing like an explosion, to obliterative proportions, or like the rising sun hot on the mental horizon.
Jonah had no small humiliation. They cast lots to see who was involving the ship in this storm. Jonah it was.
What a situation! There you are, a practising man or woman of God, a Christian, as it would be in today's covenantal setting, and you are found out as one who erred. It is not as if you made a practice of such a thing, but you yielded to a sudden flair of temptation, just as the sun sometimes sends out solar flares . Now shown up, you unwillingly find your part as one who encourages evil, by the error, who gave apparent consent to sin and occasion for evil. What an anti-testimony! How good to remember Peter's sudden lurch. How well, therefore, should such a thing as this hold our hands, if we even consider moving from any part of the will of God instead of putting our entire hearts into it! How well it fortifies from sudden impulse! How much may a little thing bring evil to pass, and how well the Lord knows the depth behind any fall; for in some cases, the head is being held too high for the ground so much as to be seen. So the fall! Accordingly will He act; but we must respond. It is no good crying over warping sin. It is necessary to repent and show it.
HIS FRANK ADMISSION
Before the sailors, then, Jonah admitted frankly his fault, that His Lord was the Creator and he was on the run. Why then they asked, have you done this ? Why had he so stirred things up with such baneful results for them all ? A question indeed: it seems that it was because he was cowardly that they were required to be brave; and they were; but as the storm grew worse despite their efforts to deliver him, they heeded his suggestion that they throw him overboard, at last, despite the sense of letting him down.
So does wandering from the way, word, work, morality, duty or responsibility one has in the Lord, lead others to trouble. Jonah however, up now from the depths of the ship, where he had sought to remove trouble and duty and fearful challenge, such as preaching to the mighty capital of Assyria, Nineveh, was commendably quick to short-circuit their loss. Overboard with me then! Such was his self-sacrificial cry, to cut their loss for his sin.
To be sure, the Nineveh orders from the Lord as had been given to the prophet, were hard; but NOW he was willing to face something which was more fatal and perilous yet, in its prospects: overboard amid a raging storm while far out to sea. It is good to see this resolution, this resolve, this lavish desire for righteousness, this just concern. Would there be rescuers ? MOST unlikely; but even if so, would he not make them vulnerable, even if amazingly any could be found before he drowned. What a situation! However as a servant and friend of God, he acted. He indeed asked for it this time, and he got it: overboard!
THE FAVOUR OF HIS FRIENDS
How commendable was the reluctance of the men to act thus, and how notable that they prayed that they might not be held accountable! It seems faith now worked in them, despite Jonah's slip, and the Lord in wisdom made the impact all the greater. How shameful that Jonah occasioned such things because of his errors; but the Lord knows well how discipline sinning saints, and is highly effectual in his dealings! If Nineveh, however, was dangerous, even daunting to Jonah, now the roaring sea in full foaming flight from the wind, was potentially disastrous, readily able to lead to anything in the way of peril and horror.
Thus our errors can lead to what is far worse, when once the narrow path is left; but the Lord can on repentance of the sinner, turn it most effectively, to account. Prayerful living is the answer, in which NO STEP is taken in mere psychic flurry, mere emotional preference or rational sloth; and none without a spiritual consultation with the Lord, and His word, the Bible, one which is thorough and makes no spurious pleas. special pleadings but is faithful.
THE FACING OF FACTS
In this, notice the example of Jesus Christ who, outlining to His Father the needs of His soul - IF IT BE POSSIBLE, LET THIS CUP PASS FROM ME, yet added:
"Nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done," (Luke 22:42).
How good it is to be frank with the Father, and to seek help from the Son, and strengthening through the Spirit as in Ephesians 3:16, with power as in Ephesians 1:19 for the purpose. How wise to keep that purpose acutely in mind! What would have been the good of it, if Christ had done all the works of grace and kindness, but had failed categorically in His saving work. By this, He was to cover as many as would come to Him (John 5:39-40, 6:37), even if millions, through His death and attendant resurrection. It was NOT by following other ideas, such as those of Peter in his own sudden slip (Matthew 16:22-23), as so many now do. Bent on using His name, they nevertheless are found disappearing from His orders, just the same! It is by faithful following His will, way and word that you prevail at length in your place of service.
You do not wisely change the operating or the intimately personal directions for your life's work and its charge and character, in order to be happy or wealthy or popular.
Rather, when you discover that you have been soundly asleep in the bowels of the ship of culture, education or profession, society or political involvement, you awake to the situation, face it and act. You return to Him from whom you have strayed, to His word with joy and a willingness, abandoned from the distorting influence of sin's appeals.
HIS RESCUE and ITS MESSAGE
Jonah's departure brought immediate peace. How impressed were the sailors who at once sought sacrifice towards THE LORD! It seems this dealings impressed them, showing us that IF we do err, then not only do we have a barrister to plead for us, as in I John 1:7 - 2:2, but by putting things right with heart, we may even at that, do more good than a little, through our very constancy and courage in meeting the case! Contrition in action may help to awaken others, turning their thoughts to seeking the Lord. It is never too late to repent if your heart gains access to this lovely thing, and it is always most blessed so to act!
First then, Jonah rescued those whom he had imperilled, how ? It was by cleansing his heart of folly, and ceasing to bring evil by his venture of folly. Then he WAS himself rescued miraculously, this now making two rescues, by the mercies of the Lord. Prayer changes things (look at that of Jonah in Ch. 2!). Indeed, it is far better, when you wait on the Lord, not to be dictatorial about how He may resolve to help you, an error altogether easy to make, using your own imagination instead of faith in HIS capacities. Instead, seek to do His will His way! Find it from the written and the living word, Jesus Christ bodily resurrected and very much alive!
The use of the large fish, possibly a whale shark, reported to have swallowed humans at other times, and with an air chamber for refuse in its midst, for the rescue of Jonah was itself a master stroke. When Jonah cried out to the Lord (Jonah 2) as if from the very prisons of hell, he was heard, and with this change of heart now manifest, he was spewed out near the shore, and finding it, he came to attention. What did the Lord want of him ? It strikes me as amazingly kind of the Lord to be willing still to use him, just as He was willing still to use young John Mark, despite the latter's leaving the missionary work with Paul after Cyprus. Indeed,
HOW He used that same Mark, since apart from all else, one of the Gospels bears his name. This teaches us not to be too sudden in seeing red when people do foolishly; and indeed Mark's relative, Barnabus, a godly man, took him in hand and continued working with him. Such rescues can be just as important as that of Jonah, and in their own way, perhaps just as real, as fruitful and as notable.
That of Jonah however was historic, for he was then sent anyway, despite all, to Nineveh and preached with such effect that it appears to be one of the greatest evangelical crusades in history, a whole vast and imperial CITY overwhelmed with remorse and repentance before the Lord, humbling itself as few ever did or do. The fact of the marks on his skin, which from what is seen in parallel circumstances, would be there to attest to his trials, might have made a difference to those who heard him, as indeed might his story, his narrative. All this amid his divinely given message, may have had vast impact on his listeners, the Lord Himself stirring. Certainly the results were there. Massive repentance set in, at Nineveh.
How hard the sailors had earlier rowed to deliver him! but this did not prevail. There is no salvation in the works of the heart, of one's fellow men, of one's being nice or even thoughtful, that will stand. How willing was Jonah to be thrown overboard! but this made no difference to the storm; in fact, it grew worse. It is not in pledges but in action, not in devotions but in devotion, not in resolution but in repentance, not in self-trust but in seeking, imploring the mercy of God the Creator-Redeemer, of Christ Himself, that results lie. Believing is not a name for a concept, but for trust; receiving Christ is not a phrase for satisfaction, but a schedule for action.
Vicariously, Christ offered Himself to take our sin, bearing it for as many as would ever come to Him, and being thus the centre of trouble and pain, anguish and penalty, He was thrown out of this world amid the storms of human passion, set as the sufficient sacrifice for sin, bringing peace to the hearts of many. Those who assuredly take HIM as the very sacrifice required, discerning the difference from all else, through this may make outreach to others: so bringing aid to find peace for those with whom they had been 'sailing'.
Quietening one's heart in the midst of trouble does not deliver, though as a prelude, it may help. It is action in the heart, moving up from the covering depths of the ship of life and coming openly to the situation, facing it and finding in Him by faith the cover needed, that matters. Nor is it in some other lord, since you may have had troubles with this one! It is to the same Lord, God of heaven and heaven, Maker of the Universe, that return must be made. Every soul on this earth has to come back to the same place, to Him as Saviour-Redeemer, Creator and Lord (Acts 4:11-12). It is in Him alone that pardon may be found, since it is His to give: vicarious offerer of Himself by His grace for your redemption and guarantee alike, by expiating sin on the Cross (Romans 5:1-12), alive from the dead to conduct your life, when given to Him..
It is with Him that you need to act. It is so in great things; it is so in small. Christianity is not only about truth, it is also about the way and the life: and most conveniently, most impressively and majestically, Christ in Himself is ALL THREE of these, the cover both adequate and profound (John 14:6).
Christ the Citadel ... Ch. 2.