Then the sailors said to each other, ‘Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.’ They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, ‘Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?’
He answered, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heav-en, who made the sea and the dry land.’
This terrified them and they asked, ‘What have you done?’ (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
“What have you done?” ask the sailors of Jonah. In their eyes, Jonah must have committed a grievous sin to warrant such treatment.
This is one of these questions that has fascinated humanity since the dawn of time: Is our suffering the direct result of a sinful past? It is a quandary wrestled with repeatedly throughout Scripture. The answer offered up in the Book of Job is that humanity is simply incapable of comprehending reality as God sees it.
Of course, in this story, God has caused the storm due to Jonah’s willful disobedience. Perhaps Jonah’s greatest failure is the smallness of his vision of God. Divine reality, as far as Jonah is concerned, is something that can be denied and out run. His fellow sailors have no such misconceptions; they know that the only appropriate response is awe.
Needless to say, this riddle about the link between sin and suffering is something we have had to wrestle with again during the pandemic: How can a loving God permit such suffering?
In this short book we are reminded that we are dealing with a free God, whose actions we cannot fully understand or predict. Once again, Jonah has much to learn from his fellow travelers, who have a better grasp of what this God is all about than he does. This is not a God to be domesticated, boxed-in or tied-down.
Perhaps awe and wonder remain the most legitimate form of prayer after all.