We are in the middle of tracking with Jonah and what it means to be human before God. The story continues this way: 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.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish." [Jonah 1:4-6]
Jonah is on the run, running from God and his life’s purpose. He is trying to avoid his life -- evade, dodge, sidestep, escape, wriggle out of his life -- you know what I mean. God has given him his responsibility and he wants no part of it. So he finds a boat headed in the opposite direction of where he should be going, and entering it he goes to sleep. Apparently, Jonah doesn’t only want to avoid his life, he also feels the need to sleep through it. Its a coping mechanism. As he runs, he wants to find that kind of dullness where the seriousness of his evasion is mostly forgotten.
It is not an easy thing on the conscience to run from our life’s purpose. And that is because purpose is something which God gives, something essential to our humanity, something we cannot escape.
We have all experienced those moments in life when the weight of our human existence overwhelms us. If we sense that we are dislocated, alienated, estranged from ourselves or our calling or the God who loves us, we too can be tempted to curl up into a ball and go to sleep. Maybe not literally. Our sleep can take many forms, and even busyness can be a kind of tranquilizer for the soul.
Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher and mathematician, commented on this condition in his Pensées. He said: “Man’s sensitivity to trivia, and his insensitivity to matters of major importance, reveal he has a strange disorder.”
But there is a push towards wisdom in this story. And it comes from the captain of the ship who confronts Jonah with the absurdity of trying to sleep at a moment like that. If you will allow me to re-phrase the captain’s wake up call to Jonah, and use a lot of exclamation marks, the captain says something like this: “Wake up sleepy-head! Life is calling! You can’t avoid this moment or the weight of your life. This one looks like a god-storm to me, a circumstance that will surely smash your avoidance schemes! This one you will have to address. So get up Jonah, shake yourself loose from your lethargy and feelings of helpless! Put a little elbow grease into your prayer and ask God to help you!”
Good advice. Wise advice. Necessary advice.
I am sure you have heard the classic children’s bedtime prayer which goes like this: Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take
While it is not a prayer I can recommend for your child (seems a little skewed to me), I mention it because of the better adult version, the twist on that third line that adults should pray every day as they head out the door -- “if I should wake before I die...”.
Are you awake to the life you have been given? Or have you fallen asleep in order to cope. Get up! Rouse yourself! God is calling you into your purpose. You really can’t avoid it.
We continue in our Jonah series this Sunday. See you at 9:29 or 11:11.