One of the most used phrases within Christian circles is “God’s will”. We use that phrase for everything from celebrating to grieving. It’s almost as though we have no control of the outcome of any given situation. But have you thought about the way human freewill fits into everyday life?
Too often we want to believe that our choices do not impact others. When it comes to the topic of how personal choices affect others I think about Jonah. He was a prophet that heard directly from God. Jonah also had a strong dislike for people from a specific city named Nineveh. As an example of how a personal choice affects others read Jonah 1.
Jonah 1 (NLT) The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” 3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish. 4 But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. 5 Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. 6 So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.” 7 Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. 8 “Why has this awful storm come down on us?” they demanded. “Who are you? What is your line of work? What country are you from? What is your nationality?” 9 Jonah answered, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” 10 The sailors were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the Lord. “Oh, why did you do it?” they groaned. 11 And since the storm was getting worse all the time, they asked him, “What should we do to you to stop this storm?” 12 “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.” 13 Instead, the sailors rowed even harder to get the ship to the land. But the stormy sea was too violent for them, and they couldn’t make it. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. “O Lord,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.” 15 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! 16 The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him. 17 Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
As a result of Jonah’s actions many lives were put at risk. When he was told to go to Nineveh Jonah protested loudly in speech and action. In fact Jonah went so far as to get on a boat heading away from Nineveh. In addition, much money was lost when the crew threw supplies overboard.
Was this God’s will? Did God really plan to bring great fear into the sailors? Was it God’s will that innocent people would suffer personal loss? Is it likely that a compassionate God would set up a situation that men had to choose between throwing someone in the sea or face shipwreck? From what I read it was God’s will for Jonah to go to Nineveh and give a vast city an opportunity to repent. It was the freewill of Jonah that caused the problems for the ships crew!
It’s easy to say “in the end Jonah did what he was supposed to” and that’s true but the sailors on the ship had to live with their own memories of that day. There is no indication that any of them knew Jonah survived the ordeal. The loss of cargo would have caused at least some financial hardships for the owners and crew of the ship. That being said, most likely that had some impact on others lives to some degree. I also wonder if other ships were caught in the storm. It could be that some fishermen lost a day or two of work because of the fierce winds. The ripple effect of direct disobedience to God is far reaching.
It’s possible that you are in a terrible storm due to someone else’s choice. It could be that your own decision caused the storm. It may also be that you’re sitting in the belly of a big fish do to your own choices. Neither one of those situations is because God willed it, He only allowed it because of the power of freewill given us humans.
There is a bright side to all this. Notice in Jonah 1 that the ship’s crew worshipped God after the wind stopped. Sometimes God uses storms to build our faith. By the end of the book of Jonah, the city he hated so much (more than 120,000 people) repented and were spared destruction. Even in our rebellion God can use us for His glory. God’s perfect plan will be fulfilled and along the way humans will continue to make a mess of things.
I can’t help but notice the one who had the least positive outcome was the person that failed to do the will of God. Along the way he was thrown overboard and nearly drown. Then a big fish had him for dinner. As if that wasn’t bad enough the thing pukes Jonah out on a beach. Ultimately he still ended up in Nineveh to do what he was supposed to in the first place. We last read of Jonah having a pity party because a worm ate his shady plant and caused him a terrible sun burn. But God’s desire was accomplished.
Rev. Burt Schwab