September 16, 2014

Superhero Theology V: Alienated Aquaman

It was a toss-up on which biblical character I wanted to use when it came to the water or sea. I settled on Jonah being a biblical Aquaman because (1) There are a ton of theological things going on in the book of Jonah and (2) Noah never really actually went bodily into the water. It is ironic through that it was not Jonah the prophet that had control over the beasts and over the sea but God Himself that did. This is the case both with Noah and Jonah.

So in either story we see God's omnipotence straight up. Either way, Jonah gave me the segue I needed to make another theological superhero post. This one just happens to be hydrologically based.

Jonah 1: 15-17 ~ “So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Aquaman, err, I mean Jonah is commanded by God to go to Tarshish. Tarshish is at the southern tip of Spain near modern day Straits of Gibraltar. This location is amusing…because it is diametrically opposed to Nineveh which would’ve been in the absolute opposite direction in the area of modern day Iraq. (Jonah’s starting point was in Northern Israel near Nazareth). God told him to "arise, and go" instead Jonah "arose, and fled". Foolish man.

There is irony and humor all over this small book. The first irony is that the pagan seaman appear more pious than the reluctant prophet God has called to fulfill his will. Let us compare the "piety" (or should I say the impropriety) of Jonah to the true piety of the pagan seamen in Chapter 1. It is absolutely clear that the other sailors make better spiritual models than Jonah in a few episodes in this story.

Jonah 1:6 ~ “So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

First we see in Jonah 1:6, that although they all call out to their own gods, they at least have enough sense to call on a power larger than themselves when confronted with what appears to be an insurmountable situation or obstacle. The captain even goes as far as to tell Jonah to “call on your God!” Inadvertently, the captain is telling Jonah exactly what he should be doing: Calling on his God, Yahweh to get them out of this current predicament.

Interestingly, I must consider the “casting of lots” a biblical thing to do also. It was used by many in the Bible for important decisions including the selection of Judas’ replacement as an apostle. The idea is that a sovereign God controls all in His creation…and that includes the roll of the dice. In doing this it is not gambling if you are using it to call on God’s Will. 

"The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." Proverbs 16:33. 

As would be expected, if every decision is the Lord’s, the lot landed on Jonah the guilty party. In verse 8 and 9 we see the sailors asking the “who, what, and where from” questions which Jonah dutifully replies that, he is Hebrew and he worships the Lord or the God who is “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” What a dufus! "The God who made the sea?". The sailors then have the correct and Godly response, they fear God and are terrified. They then pop the rhetorical question which amounts to “Jonah! You moron, what did you do?"

Even after Jonah gives them a logical course of action when he suggests that he be jettisoned overboard they are aggrieved at the prospect knowing that he is a Hebrew and a man of the Hebrew God (renowned as being powerful at this point judging by their reaction) and opt to row towards shore. When this fails they again petition the Lord for prerequisite forgiveness in the event Jonah dies when they are forced to toss him in the water. These may not be believers in Yahweh but they could very easily have become believers in Him had they been raised in different environments.

The icing on the cake in terms of a spiritual model of these sailors is in verse 16. Once they jettison Jonah and they realize the sea has calmed, their response is impeccable. They offered sacrifices to the Lord and made vows to Him. If some of these men didn’t eventually convert permanently to worship of Yahweh…I would be surprised. Jonah on the other hand is an embarrassment to Yahweh. In this entire story even the plants, weather and the sea obeys God’s will…but not Jonah. It takes until the end for him to bend to God’s will and even then it is a struggle. His natural bend is in the “other direction away from God”. A mediocre prophet at best.

Theologically we learn that God’s will, will be done regardless of whether or not one of His own people work to that end or a pagan does. We see the same in the story of Nebuchadnezzar in the story of Daniel. We also see God work through both the people and the elements just as we will see in the story of Jesus walking on the water. We see God’s long-suffering and patience with recalcitrant people. We see it in God's patience with the people of Nineveh and with Jonah himself. This should be theological assurance for us too.

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