THE ULTIMATE CLIFF-HANGER
A racist, arrogant, proud and disobedient man is called by God to preach to a country who constantly invades his own, and to tell them to repent of their sins and worship God. But Jonah, being the stubborn and unloving man that he is, runs away from God onto a boat, only to be thrown overboard and eaten by a big fish. Spat out onto the shores of the country he had tried to avoid, Jonah begrudgingly preaches a message consisting of four words. That’s it!
Jonah waits atop a hill, waiting day by day for God to send fire and brimstone to this pagan city, but instead, they worship God and he forgives them! Jonah cries out to God to take his own life and then . . . the story ends. The story of Jonah ends on a cliff hanger.
But why would the author choose to not reveal to us how Jonah’s story concludes? He obviously knew what happened if he knew this much of Jonah’s life, so why conceal the end of Jonah’s story? Perhaps there is a clue in the final words of the story, as God speaks to Jonah:
“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” Jonah 4:11
The reason the author decides not to reveal Jonah’s response to God’s final statement, is because Jonah’s decision is inconsequential. It doesn’t matter what Jonah chose to do. It matters what you the reader decide to do. In leaving the final chapter of Jonah open ended, the reader is transported from the hills of Nineveh to their very lounge room, where the question is posed to you ‘will you love your enemies?’
THE GOD OF MYSTERY
Many people have the unfortunate misconception that Christianity is overly dogmatic, does not allow freedom of thought, and ultimately restricts and inhibits questioning, reasoning and doubt. However, when we look through the Bible, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of meeting a God who merely commands and demands blind obedience, we discover a God who encourages His people to think freely, to wrestle with profound ideas and grasp spiritual realities. We come face to face with a God who intentionally leaves cliff hangers and asks open ended questions, to make his followers think, learn and consequently grow in their faith, wisdom and understanding.
QUESTIONED BY GOD
Several times throughout the Bible, God questions his people in order to make them ponder and think over their circumstances.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:9
But the Lord God called to the man [Adam], “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9
God’s question to Elijah caused him to reflect on why he was so depressed, only for Elijah to realise that he had exaggerated the severity of his circumstances, and that God had provided him protection, hope and now friendship.
God’s question to Adam and Eve caused them to reflect on why they felt so ashamed and why they had hidden from God. They realised it was because they feel guilty, regretting their decision to disobey God.
Notice that in both cases, these are questions for which God obviously has the answer to in his omniscience. The questions are not asked for the benefit of God, but for the benefit of the ones being asked.
Jesus also taught using metaphors and analogies, this way his audience would have to think deeply and contemplate what the spiritual meaning of his stories were. In every instance, God was trying to grab the attention of his audience and make them think for themselves and discover new ideas.
On other occasions, individuals asked God questions, to which God did not give unexpected replies. The patriarch Job suffered greatly and asked God ‘why is this happening?’. God replied with the answer ‘don’t ask why. Ask who. Who is in control?’, causing Job to realise that even in terrible circumstances, God, the great ‘who’ is in control.
Moses asked God how he would deliver His people from Egypt, and God replied with his name, I AM (who). In both instances, God does not directly answer the question given, usually because the question was incorrect, but also to put the questioner on a right path to considering the actual circumstances of the situation.
Finally, there are times where God through the Biblical author, leaves you the reader, to think, contemplate and decide. The Book of Philemon is similar to that of Jonah, in that Paul writes to Philemon to accept his servant Onesimus with brotherly love. But does Philemon accept back his servant and treat him well? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter. What is important is will you the reader, treat your fellow brother and sister in Christ well?
Similarly, the books of Daniel and Revelation are full of intense metaphors and cryptic symbols and imagery, left for readers to decipher, using the Bible as a guide. Once again, it is up to the reader to interpret and discover the meaning of the text God placed in these books.
THE GOD OF FREE THOUGHT
We have a God who encourages creativity, free thought, imaginative thinking and inquisitive reasoning. God does not require us to rely merely on blind faith, but urges us to find answers by asking questions. By leaving us open ended stories, asking questions for self-reflection, and answering our questions in unexpected ways, God helps us to create minds which can properly discern truth, filter information, and know right from wrong, not through dogmatic teachings, but through using our minds and searching out the mysteries of the Bible, and of our God.
By Christopher Petersen
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