In one of the many touching scenes from “Up In the Air”, Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) sits down with Bob (JK Simmons) to tell him he’s been let go. Bob is obviously distraught. Ryan asks him if he believes in fate. Bob replies by telling the story of how he met his wife at a gas station. Ryan suggests to Bob that fate might be trying to tell him something. That maybe this is a time of re-birth. A time to reflect on your life and follow a path that makes him happy. Yes getting fired is horrible but maybe this is happening for a reason.
Let’s think about the story of Jonah. It’s a familiar story and that’s always a problem when it comes to trying to find new meanings in well told bible stories. Jonah was a git. let’s be honest. God tells him to go to Nineveh to help people. To save them. Jonah decides to go the other way. To Tarshish. Rather than help people, he decides to do what pleases him. Here is God’s representative choosing to care more about himself than other people. Nothing new there. We can all relate to that.
He hires a boat with a crew and sets sail (I’ve found out recently that the phrase ‘paying the fare’ (v.3) could mean that he hired the boat and its crew). Along comes a storm. The gentile crew members do all that they can to save the boat. They throw their precious cargo away (literally throwing away their profits) and pray to every god that they know of. These men care about each other. They care about Jonah.
What’s Jonah doing? He’s sleeping. He doesn’t care about the crew. But then he gets woken up and he finds out what’s going on. He has an epiphany. A change of heart. He chooses to give up his own life in order to save the other men.
Why do I think this?
Jonah’s prayer in the fish is not a new prayer. all the lines taken from the psalms.
There are two types of prayers in the psalms. Prayers of thanksgivings and prayers of lament. The lines from Jonah’s prayers are all taken from psalms of thanksgiving. The writer of Jonah is doing something important here. Jonah isn’t unhappy that he’s in the belly of the fish. He’s thankful. He understands how wrong he has been. He repents. He’s a new man.
Most of the time when crap happens in our life, when we enter into a stormy phase, we ask God for help. We cry out a prayer of lament. But maybe the point isn’t to be saved from the storm. maybe the storm is saving us. The storm saved Jonah. It made him re-evaluate his thinking. It made him re-evaluate what was important. Regardless of how the rest of the story plays out, at that moment, Jonah realized what it meant to be a follower of God. He needed to do the right thing.
Back to Bob in “Up In The Air”. In a roundabout way George Clooney is saying the same thing to him as God was saying to Jonah. Maybe by being fired, Bob is being saved. He gets to re-evaluate his life. His priorities. Maybe God has his hand in Bob’s life.
Maybe just maybe, some storms can be a good thing. Because they save us from following a path that is going to bring more harm than good.
When was the last time you gave a prayer of thanksgiving in the midst of a storm?