God puts people in hard positions our class saw as we discussed Jonah, chapter 1. One problem we discussed affected the poor mariners. They seemed to have their heart in the right place. They wanted to please their gods–any god!–to survive the storm. When they found out that Jonah was at fault, they asked what they could do to help the situation. Upon finding out that they would have to drown their passenger, they rowed against hope towards shore. What a position God put them in! Obey God or save this poor, sleepy man!
One student reminded us of the situation of Abraham. God forced him to decide between his deity and his child. Like the sailors, Abraham chose God. Nevertheless, God saved Jonah through appointing a whale, and saved Abraham by appointing a ram. After putting these men in a difficult position, he brought them out again.
Jonah may have found himself in a worse position. This was the second problem we discussed. God wanted him to go to a dangerous area to say controversial things. At first, the students thought that Jonah had chosen poorly by electing to flee from his calling. Later, the students softened towards Jonah. If they had been told to go break up a group of big kids at school who appeared to be up to no good, they would not want to be the ones to tell them so. They identified with Jonah’s fear. Ultimately, couldn’t God deliver this message himself, without forcing Jonah into such a position?
Another student suggested that if God had delivered the message himself, the Ninevites may have accepted the word only out of fear. With Jonah as the mouthpiece, the Ninevites would have to decide based on faith. I told them about a concept in Judaism, that repentance (“teshuvah” from the root mentioned before: “shuv”) out of fear does not take hold like repentance (“teshuvah”) out of love. God gave the Ninevites the opportunity to repent (“shuv”) not out of fear, but out of faith.
God puts people in difficult positions, but waits patiently for them to choose well.