God’s Care for Those Who Respond to His Call (Jonah 1:3,12-14, 17; 2:10; 4:3-8)
In light of Jonah’s experience, we might fear that God’s calling will lead us into calamity and hardship. Wouldn’t it be easier to hope God doesn’t call us at all? It is true that responding to God’s call may require great sacrifice and hardship. Yet in Jonah’s case, the hardship arises not from God’s call, but from Jonah’s disobedience to it. The shipwreck and the 3-days burial at sea in the belly of the great fish arise directly from his attempt to flee God’s presence. His later exposure to the sun and wind and his despair almost to the point of suicide (Jon. 4:3-8) are not hardships imposed by God. They come because Jonah refuses to accept the blessings of “a gracious God [who is] merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (Jon. 4:2).
The truth is that God is always working to care for and comfort Jonah. God moves people to compassion for him, as when the sailors try to row the ship to land rather than accept Jonah’s offer to be thrown overboard (Jon. 1:12-14). God sends a fish to save Jonah from drowning (Jon. 1:17) and then speaks to the fish to tell it to expel Jonah back to dry land (Jon. 2:10). He grants Jonah favour among the enemy population of Nineveh, who treat him with esteem and heed his message. He provides Jonah shade and shelter at Nineveh (Jon. 4:5-6) in his time of greatest need.
If Jonah’s case is any example, God’s call to serve others in our work need not come at the expense of our own well-being. To expect otherwise would be to remain trapped in the mindset of the zero-sum game. Given the extraordinary measures God takes to provide for Jonah when he rejects God’s call, imagine what blessings Jonah might have experienced if he had accepted the call from the beginning. The means to travel, friends ready to risk their lives for him, harmony with the world of nature, shade and shelter, the esteem of people among whom he works, and astounding success in his work—imagine how great a blessing these might have been if Jonah had accepted them as God intended. Even in the diminished form that Jonah forces upon himself, they show that God’s call to service is also an invitation to blessing.
A classic exploration of this topic is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1966), originally published in 1937.