Scripture Reading: Jonah 2:1-10, Psalm 88:4-5, Hebrews 4:16
If you had to choose a ride at Disney World to be stranded on, which would it be?
Of course, the resounding answer is none, but if you really had to pick, would you choose one that didn’t go upside down? Would you pick your favorite? Maybe you’d go with one that at least overlooks a pretty view. My guess is you wouldn’t pick The Haunted Mansion, filled with ghosts and zombies and who-knows-what around the corner—the name speaks for itself.
Yet, speaking from experience, I’d give it five out of five stars. I would definitely recommend getting stuck on The Haunted Mansion. Because, here’s the thing: Florida is eleventy-billion degrees every single day of the year. The Haunted Mansion is dark. The seats recline. It is air conditioned. In fact, I think the best nap of my life happened on those plastic seats when the ride shut down unexpectedly. But if you’d told me this before I buckled my seatbelt, I never would have agreed to get on the ride.
I bet if Jonah had known beforehand that he would get swallowed by a fish, he never would have stepped foot on that boat. Many of the places God brings us to are ones we would never choose for ourselves. But that is the point: When we stop trying to find ourselves, we can see that we’ve already been found.
Pastor and author A.W. Tozer said, “In every generation, the people who have found God have been those who have come to the end of themselves. Recognizing their hopelessness, they have been ready to throw themselves on the mercy and grace of a forgiving God.”
This is why Jonah’s prayer is so surprising to us: it doesn’t sound like Jonah. He hasn’t shown interest in obeying God up until this point, and although he didn’t drown, things aren’t looking especially bright for him. But when stripped of the stories he’s told himself, he sees clearly: Death is not the worst-case scenario; life without God is.
This is what grace and mercy sound like in the face of death:
“Then you raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God!
As my life was fading away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
to your holy temple” (Jonah 2:6-7).
Of course, we don’t want to walk through storms and sit in darkness and sleep in the underbelly. But what if we remembered these are the places where grace usually meets us? Sometimes grace is messy and dark. Sometimes mercy is painful and scary. God does not need perfect circumstances to bring us closer to Him. In fact, it’s usually the opposite.
Let’s not overlook that Jonah thanks God for raising his life from the pit while he is still in it. May we do the same today, allowing grace to meet us and mercy to surprise us. We can trust that even as we cry out to God in our distress, He is faithful to answer our call (Jonah 2:2). Thanks be to God.