13 Oct 2013

Free Will and Jonah

Religious 28 Comments

We’re going through the book of Jonah at my church, and last week (I think?) the pastor said something that blew me away. He pointed out that in the story, there are times when God commands the wind and the sea, the fish, and a worm to do various things.

Not only do they obey the Lord’s commands…it’s not even a question that they will. It wouldn’t even make sense to be reading along, see the text say, “And God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land,” and then read, “But the fish ignored the LORD and swam for Joppa.” If you had been in the rhythm of the story up till that point, you’d do a double take and go, “Huh?!” Because when God decrees something, it happens, to avoid negating all existence.

Except for just one thing: There is an element of the creation that flagrantly disobeys God’s commands: the man Jonah.

(Now back to my thoughts.) Yet even here, all is well: God manages to take Jonah and still fulfill His plan. Everybody knows that, but here’s something that only occurred to me upon this reading: There’s more to Jonah than simply, “He disobeys God.” No, see, Jonah knows the Lord. He understands His nature quite well, as he discusses at various points throughout the book. And not because he is preaching, but he says it matter-of-factly: to the sailors in the beginning of the story, and to God at the end.

Furthermore, Jonah is very stubborn, and he doesn’t think much of others. So he is just the kind of guy the Lord needs to send His message to Ninevah. But first, He needed to bolster Jonah, to give him absolute confidence and not be afraid of getting laughed at, let alone beaten and killed, as he walked through the streets of Ninevah.

So God very particularly singled out this man Jonah, perfect for the job, gave him His initial order–knowing full well Jonah would flee on a ship–so that He could have a fish (/whale) swallow Jonah and let him fester for three days, really coming to appreciate what he already knew intellectually, that the Lord is in control.

And then, after that crucible, the Lord physically delivered Jonah to the land and had him march through Ninevah. We don’t know exactly what Jonah said or how he said it, but we do know it was enough to convince an entire city to repent.

So just remember: You’re exactly the person God needs to carry out His wonderful plan, whether you’re on board or not.

28 Responses to “Free Will and Jonah”

  1. Tom E. Snyder says:

    Better to be on board. Jonah may have been a little pale when he walked into town as well. That could be a conversation starter.

  2. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    To quote an old Roman saying, “The fates lead the willing. They drag the unwilling.”

  3. Innocent says:

    I think it is also important to note that Jonah, though he was obstinate, was still a person who loved God. In this case he made an obligation to God and God was just helping him keep his end of the bargain lol…

  4. Matt M. (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

    Of course, what you said about animals also provides more evidence as to why humans have dominion over them. One could state that the ability to disobey God is required of those who truly have a soul. So, that’s minus one point for PETA.

    Back to Jonah though, honestly, how stupid do you have to be to think that you can successfully run away from God via boat?

  5. Tel says:

    So just remember: You’re exactly the person God needs to carry out His wonderful plan, whether you’re on board or not.

    Well that certainly stops me worrying about whether to believe in God… take that Pascal’s Wager… Kapow!

    • Innocent says:

      Um… I think you have to covenant with Him for Bob’s statement to be true Tel… Not that you are not still loved lol… You just will not get the benefits of the Contract. Course as any free market person knows, that is simply how things work.

      • Razer says:

        So us rational atheists get to rot in hell for not believing in an invisible sky wizard, but this sky wizard really loves us. Funny way to show it. I think I’ll believe in Santa Claus instead. a better role model and there’s just as much proof that he exists as the sky wizard.

        • Innocent says:

          Oh no, you misunderstand. Love means allowing people to do as they will and reap the consequence of their actions. Would you suggest that someone who forces their will upon you is a Loving God?

          As far as proof about existence, well I am letting you know God exists. Now that does not mean that He does but if there is process whereby you can KNOW if He exists ( which there is ) but you have to actually go through it in order to find out for yourself.

          I may as well suggest that there are organisms, invisible to your eyes, but they cause all kinds of mischief within you.

          Now there is a way you can find out about these organisms yourself, you may even feel their effects without ‘believing’ in them. But if you would like to know about them there will be a process by which you can ‘see’ them.

          Now learning about God is a little different as unfortunately to date we have nothing to ‘show’ his existence for the ‘naked’ eye to see or even the ‘assisted’ eye. Yet the effects of Him can be seen very readily.

          What I think would be more cruel would be an overbearing God that simply said, do it my way or else. Which is not what God says. He invites you in, but does not force you to stay. Now you may suggest things about hell etc, those are not ‘of God’ but really are artifice that men has created to dominate others.

          So no you do not go to hell. In point of fact the only thing that you will not have as far as I can tell is the presence of God. Which to those of us who have found God know is punishment enough. Go live your life, God loves you. Cheers!

        • Tel says:

          Razer, you are up against the small problem that Santa Claus did historically declare his belief in God.

        • Matt Tanous says:

          “Funny way to show it.”

          Would you prefer that He show His love for you by forcing you to be in His presence against your will? After all, the scriptures indicate that the common conception of hell (lake of fire, etc.) are for those that specifically accept that God exists and rebel against his authority anyway (Satan, the Antichrist, etc.). Those that reject the gift of Christ’s sacrifice end up with just a lot of nothing – literally. But that, I’m sorry to say, is a specific choice – it’s like refusing an invitation to a dinner party and then wondering why no one gave you any food from it.

    • Ken B says:

      Nice Tel, nice.

  6. Rob says:


    I’m not sure you’re not completely missing the point of Jonah…It’s NOT about God getting people to do His will, but about His love and compassion. God picks Jonah because Jonah needs to understand God’s mercy and forgiveness, not because he needs to be “forced” to do God’s will.

    Jonah hates the Ninevites because of what they did to his people. He runs away because he understands that God wants to be merciful to them and he wants them to be punished. Even after Jonah preaches to them, he is still hoping that God will destroy them but, when He doesn’t, Jonah complains (see Jonah 4:1-4). So God teaches Jonah through the lesson of the plant(goad)/worm. God’s plan was to save both Nineveh AND Jonah who was consumed by his hatred of the Ninevites.

    In one sense, yes this is a story about God’s will, but potentially not in the way you’re imagining.

  7. Gamble says:

    Jonah 4:4

    Then The Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

    Jonah 4: 9

    Then God said to Jonah, ” Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

    • Gamble says:

      I guess nobody bit.

      Jonah is a story about dealing with anger.

      3 days in the darkness is also a precursor to Jesus.

      The whale gets all the attention but it is only a small part of the bigger picture.

  8. K Sralla says:

    There are two points of view. One is God’s, and once is Man’s. In our view, we are the masters of our own destiny. We possess actual volition, and our choices are real and meaningful. We can act terribly on our own accord, all the while shaking our fist and reminding God that we have our free will. In God’s view however, whatever we do is always within his overarching governance, even if we do evil.

    Jesus clearly teaches in John’s gospel that those who are not chosen and “drawn” by God (the Greek word translated “drawn” literally means “to drag”) will not believe that Jesus was the sent redeemer, and will likewise not be forgiven their evil choices and actions. It is a quite provocative view, and comes across very harsh to modern sensibilities.

    Reading through Geza Vermes’s translations of the Essene literature found at Qumran provides evidence that a view of God’s rule very similar to the one outlined above was certainly present in NT era Hellenistic Judaism. Some of the Dead Sea documents read almost like a Reformed confessional crede.

    The NT message: 1) Confess to God that your actions have been rotten and you are doomed, 2) believe that Jesus of Nazereth was the Holy one sent from God to save you, and finally 3) demonstrate that you really believe by keeping Jesus’s commandements (Love God and your neighbor with everything you have). If you do this, then you can gain assurance that God loves you and “dragged” you into his flock. Jesus taught that to believe in God truly was to believe in himself, and that if you believed, you would be resurrected to eternal life at the end of the age.

    • Ken B says:

      “There are two points of view. One is God’s, and one is Man’s.”

      So there’s one point of view.

  9. Egoist says:

    The egoist writers of the bible could not help but write of stories where humans DISOBEYED the “rules”, however deeply necessary one can make them.

    • Matt Tanous says:

      How, pray tell, are the writers of the Bible egoists? How does “these are the rules that define what action is morally valid” equate to “self-interest leads to actions that are morally valid”?

  10. Daniil Gorbatenko says:

    How can the existence of free will be consistent with God’s ability to predict actions of humans? Do you believe that God is atemporal?

    • Egoist says:

      God knows what your free will actions will be.

      • Tel says:

        This leads to an interesting information encoding problem. If you had to write down the exact condition of the universe at any particular instant, could you write it more efficiently than the universe itself? In other words, is the universe compressible in terms of information?

        Suppose the answer is “No” then knowing all the future states of the universe until the end of time would require more space for information storage than the entire universe itself, leading to the requirement for an endless cascade of meta-universes to spill over into.

        If the answer is “Yes” the universe can be compressed the we could do that trick too.

        • Egoist says:

          I think the solution to that problem is to realize that encoding, knowing, compressing, all of these are egoist activities. Egos can comprehend the rudiments of infinity, whereas the Non-Ego cannot.

          If you assume a Non-Ego universe, there is no requirement for encoding, knowing or compressing. Everything just is, and everything that is, is contained in the universe.

          But when you introduce an Ego, it is incredible how efficiently prior constraints are transcended.

    • Matt Tanous says:

      “Do you believe that God is atemporal?”

      How could a God that created space-time be confined by space-time?

      • Daniil Gorbatenko says:

        Well, that’s exactly what I am hinting at. God was supposedly interacting with humans in time in space. At the same time, he can’t predict human actions unless he’s atemporal. This seems to suggest that the Biblical concept of God is incoherent.

        • Jiggamahninja says:

          People predict others’ actions all the time. Statisticians, FBI agents, and some scientists have jobs that rely on accurately predicting people’s actions.

          But I think you’re right about God’s nature being depicted in a nonsensical way, especially in Jonah. If God gave us free will, then God is not omniscient since he let Jonah stay in fish, hoping that Jonah would his mind. If God knew that Jonah would change his mind, then at least in some cases, we don’t have free will. The same thing can be said about the ppl of Nineveh.

          I know this is an old thread, but this is something that I’ve been struggling with for a while. So I figured I’d post this to see if I could get a sensible response.

    • Gamble says:

      Does God really have to know everything we will do? What if he simply made us with free will, put us here and then simply waits to see who chooses Jesus? I assume God implemented certain safe guards and at times intervenes but overall, our humanity is resultant of our choice to worship good or evil however a perfect society or what ever is not Gods overall objective. He simply wants you to choose the Savior.

      IF somebody asked we what the purpose of life is, I would say the purpose of Earth and Humanity is for God to see if you will freely choose Jesus, nothing more.

  11. Servant- says:

    Great view on Jonah and free will.

    “So just remember: You’re exactly the person God needs to carry out His wonderful plan, whether you’re on board or not.”

    The above is a great line.

  12. Confused says:

    Wait, so if God gave the human race free will, why did He force Jonah to go to Nineveh if Jonah did not want to? That makes absolutely no sense. There were most likely a few people who were willing to go to Nineveh to help the sinners there, but Jonah wasn’t one of them. So the question remains: why would God force Jonah to visit Nineveh if Jonah was unwilling to?

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