God’s Sovereignty and Jonah’s Choice

I think the story of Jonah is a good example of the interplay between the freedom of humans to choose and God’s sovereignty over human life. To put it succinctly: the prophet Jonah is told to go warn the people of Nineveh to repent of their wickedness or face destruction at the hand of God. Jonah refuses to warn the Ninevites and attempts to make a break for it. God hunts him down and puts him in a position where Jonah grudgingly submits to his assigned task. After Jonah dispenses with his duty, he sits outside the city and waits hoping that the Ninevites will ignore his message and that God will destroy them. The Ninevites repent, God doesn’t destroy them and Jonah is left to stew.

God’s sovereignty is clear. He commissions Jonah to deliver a message. The message is God’s ultimatum; repent or perish. He not only has the authority to issue the ultimatum, he has the power to carry it through. Not only that, but he also has the resources to ensure that even his uncooperative (rebellious?) messenger will in fact deliver his message. He commands a storm on the sea. He commands a fish to swallow Jonah, and vomit him back out. He withholds the destruction of Nineveh. He causes a plant to grow and sends a worm to eat it. God is obviously and powerfully in control.

Human freedom is also clear. God tells Jonah “Go” and Jonah says “No”. Apparently, God did not put a burden on Jonah’s heart for the people of Nineveh. Not only does Jonah refuse to take the message, he heads off in the opposite direction. Yet, God doesn’t take control of Jonah’s legs and welds him to the spot. Neither does he have Jonah goose-step back to Nineveh. Rather, God puts a storm in Jonah’s path which requires Jonah to choose again. This time, Jonah chooses to not to call out to his god like the sailors asked. It isn’t until he’s been identified by the cast of lots that he admits who he is and who God is. Humans are faced with another choice now. The sailors do not want to follow Jonah’s instructions and toss him overboard so they try to save the ship and themselves by ejecting the cargo. When Jonah is finally tossed overboard and gets some alone time with God in the fish’s belly, notice that he chooses to hold on to his hatred of the Ninevites and God doesn’t force him to relinquish it as a prerequisite for saving him from the sea. In fact, instead of supernaturally giving Jonah a new disposition toward the wicked Ninevites, God attempts to guide Jonah into the correct attitude. As the story comes to an end, despite all of God’s displays of power and mercy, we don’t see Jonah come around to God’s view of the Ninevites. Apparently, God allows Jonah to choose how he will view them.

This is how it is between God and man. He commands and we either obey or we don’t. He responds to our choices and we comply with his will or we don’t. He guides and we either follow or we flee. He teaches and we either learn or we don’t. Ultimately, God’s purpose prevails and we either cooperate with him or we don’t…and take the consequences.


Leave a comment

Filed under Reflection

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s