Summary: God disciplines us when we turn aside from His will: either we get swallowed up in addictive behavior, churchianity, busy-ness, and controversy; or God spews us out as ill-equipped, unreceptive, divisive. Confess our distress, admit our limitations, and
What parent does not dread this awful experience? In your care is a small child. You turn your back for just an instant –to answer the phone, to get a drink of water – and when you come back to that child, she is coughing and choking, clutching at her throat. Those curious eyes saw something interesting, so those chubby fingers immediately carried it to the mouth. And now the child is in distress; there’s something in the throat that shouldn’t be there! What do you do?
In a panic, you grab the baby and you begin to try to shake loose whatever it is that’s in her mouth. You stick your finger in, but she pushes you away. You pat her on the back, but now she’s turning all different shades. Nothing is working! The child is choking! What do you do? How do you help? The Heimlich maneuver! Can you use that on an infant? What do you do?
Well, there are only two acceptable options, aren’t there? One of two things must happen. Either the child will swallow the object in her throat, or she will spew it out. If one of those two things doesn’t happen, she will suffocate and die. So you have to hope that whatever it is she’s got in her mouth she will either swallow up or spew out.
Now it’s tough enough trying to perform a Heimlich maneuver on a baby. Suppose you had to do the Heimlich on a fish –a really big fish. Suppose some fish had swallowed something it wasn’t supposed to swallow – and I’m sure some of you fishermen have just about decided that your baited hooks are among of the things most fish are never going to swallow – but suppose some fish had swallowed something very large, like a man? How would you Heimlich a great fish?
Well, God did it. According to the delightful little story of Jonah, God had to Heimlich a fish one day. God had to deal with one of His finny creatures who had swallowed the bait named Jonah.
Last week we met Jonah on shipboard. He was bound for Tarshish, a city just about as far away as he could get from where he was supposed to be. We met Jonah on that ship and not in Nineveh because Jonah didn’t want to go and do missions. We said that there were two reasons why Jonah didn’t want to go; do you remember? We said that there was an emotional, down-in-the-tummy reason and an intellectual, up-in-the-head reason. Do you remember?
The emotional reason Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh: he had a reaction to the people there. They were described as wicked, and Jonah didn’t like that. Jonah didn’t do wicked, remember? He likely felt superior. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he reacted to those different people over there.
And then there was the intellectual reason Jonah didn’t want to go, the up-in-his-head reason: Jonah was the victim of a bad theology. He believed you could run from God. The text takes great pains to point out that Jonah thought he would be able to get away from the presence of God. So, Jonah not only didn’t want to go to Nineveh, he thought he could just believe whatever he wanted to believe, never mind about the Bible, and just scoot away from God’s attention.