by Dan Lohrmann
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Jonah 2:1-3
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. Jonah 2: 9-10
During this pandemic I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s helpful book The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy. Its impactful messages humble me and challenge my assumptions.
In chapter 6, Keller writes:
“God orchestrated a circumstance in history to teach Jonah something he desperately needed to know. With 20/20 hindsight, we can see that the most important lessons we have learned in life are the result of God’s severe mercies. They are events that were difficult or excruciating at the time but later came to yield more good in our lives than we could have foreseen.”
He then refers to J.I. Packer for several key insights into Jonah.
First, many people talk about God’s grace but fail to truly grasp God’s mercy and what “amazing grace” really means. Understanding grace first requires a heart-felt recognition of our moral failings. Jonah’s prayer showed that he recognized that God had cast him “into the deep” (even though the sailors did the deed), and he deserved that divine justice.
Second, Packer says we must see our “spiritual impotence” or our inability to cleanse ourselves from sin. Just as Jonah was trapped in an underwater prison and sinking deeper into the depths with no human way out, so we are helpless to save ourselves from our wrongdoings by trying harder.
Third, where can we turn? In his full prayer, Jonah turns toward the mercy seat in the temple which was where God promised to cleanse sins. On the Day of Atonement, a priest would sprinkle blood of the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people.
This pointed to Jesus. In Hebrews 10, we learn that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the only way to be cleansed from our sin and to be made right with God. (Consider reading Heb. 10 for more encouragement.)
As I look back at my life, I am eternally thankful for God’s severe mercies. Though they were devastating at the time, I can see now how God used breaking my wrist while playing quarterback in high school, cancer as a 38-year-old father, and numerous difficult professional career events to drive me to my knees and pray earnestly, repent, and put on Jesus Christ.
Might our current trials be God’s mercies in disguise? With Jonah, we can thank God even in the hardest times and even before circumstances change (Jonah praises God, and then the fish spits him out!).
Our trust is in the faithful God of history who provides amazing grace – his mercy is new every morning. Let us sincerely ponder and boldly proclaim, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”