But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.’
Jonah was trying to get as far away from God as possible. He had gone down to Joppa and now goes down to the ship’s hold and lays down; but God is still present and active, high up in the heavens, controlling both winds and waves. The sailors are frightened, the ship is portrayed as trying to decide how to respond to God’s power; but Jonah is fast asleep. I wonder, do we ever turn our backs on the turmoil in the world and hope to sleep through it?
In contrast to Jonah, the ship’s crew are all praying to their own gods for help. As the wind is hurled at them, they hurl the cargo overboard; saving their lives is more important than material goods being traded for profit. Jonah sleeps on until the captain wakes him and urges him to call on his god too; but interestingly the text is silent as to whether Jonah responds or not.
All the sailors demonstrate faith in divine power. They believe the gods are in control of the forces of nature; and the gods are the ones who can save them from death. The captain also reveals a deep understanding that a true God has freedom to choose how divine power is wielded. May we always have the humility to realise that people of other faiths have things to teach us, as Christians, about faithful prayer and trust in God.
In any time of trouble it is important that we turn to God in prayer seeking divine help; but we should remember that God already knows our needs and doesn’t need to be nudged into action. Our prayers should express our faith and trust in God’s eternal love and mercy and our readiness to say, ‘Your will be done.’
God of power, reveal yourself to us in mighty acts when we hide away and pretend that we can manage life without you.
Lift us up by the working of your Holy Spirit so that we can play our part in resolving the troubles of this world alongside all whom you give us to be our brothers and sisters.
Let us become beacons of hope as we live the life of Christ, confidently, through faith. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge