Tag Archives: whale

23: Sulking in the Sun

23 sulking in the sun MF imelenchon

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” Jonah 4:9 NIV (But please do read the whole of chapter four if you have time.)

 

So, having explored what self-pity is not, in my last few entries, I wanted to try and give an example of what it actually is occurring in Scripture, and poor old Jonah is the victim I’ve picked. Now I am quite an expert on self-pity, having mastered it slowly over a number of years and then having been (mostly) released from it.

I can recognise now that the hallmarks of self-pity are that it is prolonged (though we often dip in and out of it), that it becomes an attitude we live by, that it is almost entirely self-centred, that it smacks of an attitude of entitlement or of self-loathing, and that it twists the facts cleverly to make everything look as though we are at the centre of a vortex of unfairness.

In short, self-pity is permanent sulking. It is our ego throwing a toddler tantrum every time something doesn’t go our way and imagining rightly or wrongly that the world is out to get us. It is all encompassing and often even manages to defy logic. We have persuaded ourselves somewhere deep inside that nothing can go right for us and that the world is not giving us the fair deal we deserve.

Jonah is the daddy of all sulkers. He sulks himself onto a ship, he sulks himself into being thrown overboard and after being rescued miraculously and performing his prophetic duty like a pro, then reverts back to sulking, even about the success of his mission. I told you this is what would happen! is the gist of what he says to God, in one of my all-time favourite Bible verses: “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3 partial NIV)

Jonah is such a practised sulker, he can even take offence at God’s goodness whilst praising him for it. And even though he knows that the city will be spared, he still storms off and sits in the desert “to see what will happen”. He was sent to Nineveh to ask the people to repent and they did. Instead of outward compassion, Jonah displays the giveaway characteristic of someone stuck in the rut of self-pity: he turns even his own successes into failures. Believing that the Lord relenting makes him look foolish is more important to him than thousands being saved from death. This is an ego in extremis. And yet, I have great sympathy for Jonah. I relate to his sufferings, so much so I even wrote a short book about him (yet to be published).

But the thing that lifts my heart about Jonah is, that even sitting in the sun sulking, God is patiently trying to teach him compassion via the lesson of the plant he sends and then withers. The Lord is trying to show him a way out, trying to help him understand the heart of the God he serves, which, (another mark of self-pity) actually Jonah already knows, and judging from the verses I quoted, better than most. He is just choosing anger over compassion because it is easier, because it is ingrained and because his own heart isn’t ready yet to be freed from the stranglehold of ego. The only thing that can perform that kind of often slow emotional and spiritual surgery is love, and God is there with him and us, writing the book on it.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

19: Caught in the Kelp

19 beglib mf

The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.” Jonah 2:5 NIV

Sometimes in life we can feel trapped, hedged in (as Job puts it in his book) and we are upside down like Jonah is here at the bottom of the sea with no way out and even the seaweed wrapping itself around us like binding tentacles. And we mustn’t be fooled into thinking that such feelings are fleeting or only last for moments. Some decades feel like this, frankly.

As a writer, I love the seemingly small details in bible stories that tell me these things were really experienced. Jonah could speak for ages about being on the seabed, but it is that the usually friendly greenery there even turns into an enemy that hooks me in both emotionally and suspends any disbelief. And those swathes of plant life must also have impeded his sight, maybe feeling like a blindfold. As someone who suffers from claustrophobia, this is a frightening sensation to be drawn into. I know, like Jonah, that panic and despair would destroy any ideas I might have had about being saved, about my own abilities to swim, or any belief in my own powers. Utterly helpless, totally hopeless, beginning to drown, where is our God then? Well, as it turns out, his solution is hovering nearby. As soon as Jonah manages to cry out in his spirit, sending a desperate prayer sky-rocketing, the giant fish or whale is there to save him.

Rescue often looks bizarre or unexpected at first. And yet, there wasn’t time to get Jonah to the surface, not even to disentangle him from the watery triffids. So air had to come to him, and the plants be torn up with him, so being swallowed down by a great sea creature was an inspired solution, even avoiding the dreaded bends. How our God thinks of everything! And maybe at this point the seaweed blocking Jonah’s sight was a blessing in disguise, as I doubt it would have done much for his faith to see a huge creature coming at him open-mouthed.

Our prayers are anticipated, our desperations understood, however long we have to suffer them. God’s answers may look strange and take us on journeys that seem just as dark and bizarre, but in the end, there is a surfacing and a spewing, and a new beach of opportunity waiting for us.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com