When a man attempts to sail single-handedly across the Indian Ocean disaster strikes, he awakes one morning to finds his boat has struck a large stray container, and is rapidly taking on water. He patches up the hole and continues on his way but the weather is not with him and before long he has to abandon his damaged vessel and take refuge on his dinghy. Short of food and water he does his best to catch some food.
The prophet Jonah must have felt a little like this guy. Having fled the call of his God to travel to Ninevah, he found himself lost at sea and terribly alone. When he headed for Spain instead of going to Ninevah a storm hit the boat and, realising God was involved, he told the sailors to throw him overboard. He falls down into the depths, believing himself lost for dead, but instead he is swallowed by a big fish, and given time to reflect on his predicament. Isolated and trapped at sea Jonah must have felt very lost. He was trying to run from his God, his calling, his job, his very identity. He had lost everything and now he must have thought this was the end. He had never expected to be asked to preach to the savage Assyrians in Ninevah, why on earth would God send him there?
But given time alone in the dark he discovers that God has not left him, even in that place of rebellion and isolation, God is with him. And waiting to give him another chance. In the words of Psalm 139, ‘I can never escape from your spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there.’ (Verses 7 & 8) God is not afraid of the dark, and not put off by our attempts to be self-sufficient. He heard Jonah’s desperate cry and spewed him out of those depths. Jonah came out of the dark a humbled man, ready to take a risk for God. However, he wasn’t as changed as he thought he was, and when God proved himself quick to forgive the Ninevites, as he had been quick to forgive Jonah, it hacked the fish-born prophet off. That’s another story, but one that shows God is not afraid of our anger either, and ready to talk with us about anything that is rattling around our heads. No subject is off-limits. He knows us very well indeed, and it seems to me, he is always ready to listen. Especially in the dark places.