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“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah….saying; ‘Arise, go to Nineveh’….But Jonah arose and fled to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord”  Jonah 1:1,2,3

“…I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people….out of Egypt.  But Moses said to God: ‘ Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt”‘.  Exodus 3:10,11

“Do not be afraid Mary….and behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His Name Jesus. Then Mary said: ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word'”.  Luke 1:30, 38

Dear Sisters and Brothers; Our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and so many other authors’ within the Word of God make it abundantly clear; God’s way is not our way.  And understand this, it is not just that God’s way is different; but that God’s way, being perfect, is far beyond our ability to truly comprehend and appreciate.  As such there is much that is inscrutable in attempting to understand God.  I start with these statements because this post is not some definitive exposition on the concept of free will.  For there is much to be contemplated concerning the concepts of predestination, supremacy of God’s plan, the Creator’s control over His creation and how He employs that control which seem all to fit into the overarching concept of freewill.

Even given that enigmatic aspect of freewill, I do believe God’s Holy Word gives us some truths that we can use to further our faith and improve our lives.  To illustrate those truths, a few well known person’s and their stories come to mind.

Let’s start with Jonah.  Besides the book of the bible that bears his name, Jonah is referenced in the Second Book of Kings where he is named as a prophet.  As a prophet, he is a man of God, required to spread the word of God to the people.  As the Book of Jonah starts, he is given a command by God to go to the city of Nineveh and “cry out against it for their wickedness has come up before me”.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  As a prophet of God, we might think that Jonah would wholeheartedly accept God’s call and strike out for Nineveh.  Jonah indeed does strike out; but not to Nineveh but to Tarshish which is completely on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea!  Yet God is not to be denied and Jonah ends up being carried in a rather uncomfortable means to Nineveh.  Jonah even prays a very anguished prayer of humility to God.  So where does free will come into play?  Throughout the entire story, at every turn; Jonah contends with God.  When the people of Nineveh repent and God is merciful to them, Jonah get’s mad.  When God tries to teach Jonah about the power of mercy when He causes a plant to grow to shelter Jonah and then causes it to die; Jonah gets angry and wants to die.  We don’t get the sense at any point in the Book of Jonah that Jonah uses his free will to accept God’s plan for him or the Ninevehites.

Moving on to Moses, we see a man who also initially flees from his people.  Moses seems to have found his place as a shepherd and family man in the land of Midian.  Yet the people of God in Egypt were in bondage and crying out to God for a deliverer; and God had a person in mind; Moses.  Now initially, Moses, like Jonah before him, tried to dissuade God from using Moses to carry out His plan.  However, Moses, relented and decided to follow God and return to Egypt.  Yes, Moses often found himself contending with the people and even when Moses rashly acted outside the direction and scope of God, He always accepted the Will of God.  So from a free will standpoint, Moses came to a point of acceptance and humility toward God and His plan becoming one of the most powerful and beloved persons in the bible.

Then we come to Mary.  Mary was a humble, believing young girl who has a miraculous encounter with the angel Gabriel.  As any of us might be in the presence of the Angel of the Lord, Mary was initially fearful at even being in the presence of an angel.  She is a virgin so when the angel mentions that she will have a child, she does not dispute with the angel or try to dissuade him from choosing her, but is curious about how it might be that she will bear the Child.  Seemingly, she might have pleaded for someone else to be granted this miracle; maybe someone of noble birth or someone who was a wife of a religious authority or other great man.  Instead her free will was to respond:  “Let it be to me according to your word”.  Thus she became blessed among all women.

You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, each of these stories have as their basis; a plan, Our Heavenly Father’s plan.  In each of these plans, deliverance, mercy and salvation were at stake.  Additionally, Our Heavenly Father, in His amazing grace and mercy saw fit to include His creation in bringing about His wonderful plan.  Frankly, I don’t know if Jonah, Moses or Mary had the “free will” to respond with a no.  It doesn’t seem so to me that they could thwart the Will of God.  In my mind, our take away should be that God also has a plan specific to you and I.  It may or not may involve saving a nation, but it is perfect and important for each of us.  Will we be more like Mary or Jesus Christ, for that matter, and say with humility and sincerity: Thy will be done? Or we will attempt to run from Our Heavenly Father and His plan for us?  Will we attempt to impose our will over His?  Should we find the carrying out of His plan inevitable in our lives; will we be downcast, depressed, reluctant trying to disengage at every turn?

I believe a significant aspect of our free will is in our humble, grateful, acceptance of His plan.  We can freely use our time in prayer to Him and study of His Word.  We can freely rely on Him forsaking the ways of self or worldly reliance. And as we freely move to align our will with His; we will encounter the freely given Love, Blessings and Salvation God has planned for us.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, thank You that You have seen fit to include us, Your creation, in carrying out Your plans.  Forgive us when we try to circumvent Your Will by substituting our will in its place.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would lovingly accept Your Plan for our lives and fully live into it.  That in our reliance upon You and our proclamation of the supremacy of Your Will in our lives, we would be beacons of Your Light and Your Love to this world and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord”  Jonah 1:3

“Now the Lord prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah….Jonah prayed to the Lord God…..So the Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Johan onto dry land”.  Jonah 1:17, 2:1, 2:10

Why Jonah?  Why you?  Why me?  Who knows that mind of God?

I have no idea: why Jonah?  Yet it is clear in scripture, God chose Jonah.  Here’s what else is clear; God was not going to be denied.  Jonah tried to deny God.  It is important that we understand that Jonah knew that he had a calling from God.  Jonah had no ambiguity about whether God wanted him to go to Nineveh; but, even with that calling, Jonah was bound and determined he was not going to go.

Why was Jonah so set against doing God’s Will?  Why did he try to run from God?  Later in this scripture we get a sense of what Jonah’s mindset was.  You see at this point in time; Jonah was not about God.  Jonah was not about the Ninevehites.  Jonah was about Jonah.  God had told Jonah to go and preach Nineveh’s destruction because of their sin.  Jonah was going to go put his name out there predicting the fall of Nineveh.  But we learn that Jonah had his doubts.  For he went and preached God, the sins of Nineveh and their coming destruction.  And what did the Ninevehites do because of that preaching?  They repented.  Starting with their king who took off his kingly robes and sat in ashes and sackcloth, the entire city repented.  So God forgave them of their sins and was merciful and did not destroy the city.  Here’s the interesting thing; God’s mercy really made Jonah angry.  It seems that Jonah was more intent on having the words of destruction happen that he preached then, seeing the Ninevehites hear God and be saved.  Jonah felt he looked foolish.  Now back to the beginning of the story.  Jonah knew that this was a possibility; so he ran.  He ran from God.

Have you ever felt that you’ve run away from God before; or maybe today your trying to.  I know I have.  I know that there have been times and even today where God is calling me to a task.  The challenge is that the task God is calling me to accomplish requires a significant change; and that change the world would look at as risky if not just plain foolish.  So I run. It’s not as if I get on a boat and physically try to flee as Jonah did.  For me it is more as if I try to ignore in my heart and soul what God is calling for me to do.  I try to go on in the worldly way, trying to fool myself into thinking this is the prudent and wise way to be.  Yet like for Jonah, there are storms in my soul.  My entire being, physical, mental, emotional is stressed as if trying to survive a major tempest.  Understand, God has not forgotten, nor forsaken me.  Actually it is just the opposite.  Why He has chosen me, I can not say.  However, He is not about to be denied.  I am the one in denial if I think I can thwart His plans.

So I feel that I am in need of a fish.  To be whisked away by a God sent messenger, without the ability to resist to find myself thrust out, arriving in the place where God intended; at times would seem like such a blessing.  Yet in reading the story of Jonah, I’m not so sure.  Because even though Our Heavenly Father was very merciful with Jonah, Jonah never still really bought in.  At the end of that gospel story, Jonah is still bitterly depressed, sitting in the desert.

Contrast that Dear Sisters and Brothers with Abraham.  He was called by God to do a very risky thing.  However, Abraham did not run from God, he ran to God.  Abraham bought into the word of God and the world could not overcome the Word or Abraham.

Here’s the thing; you, like I, may feel that you are in need of a fish from God.  You may be trying to flee from God and feeling the effects of trying to hide from Him.  You may be wishing, crying out for help, thinking that it might be nice for God to send some sort of deliverance, some sort of vehicle, like Jonah’s fish to miraculously transport you to God’s destination.  Well truth in fact is that we already have a fish, or at least He who is often shown as the sign of a fish to rely on; and that He is Jesus Christ.  For Jesus Christ did not run from God’s plan.  He did not rebel at the thought of coming down to earth.  He did not shy away from dying for our sins and in a similar fashion as Jonah, after three days Jesus Christ returned to be our salvation.

There are many in the world and some within the faith that doubt that the story of Jonah could actually happen.  It is beyond credible that God could bring about the miracle of the fish and allow Jonah to live within it for three days.  Yet I ask which is the bigger miracle; the story of Jonah, or the story of a God who so loved the world He created, even though much of it hated Him, that He sent His Only Beloved Son, to die for His wayward creation, simply so they could live with Him forever.  Which story takes more love, more mercy, more power?

Have you ever felt like you needed a fish?  Thank God the Father Almighty that He has supplied that and all else we need.  Let us not be like Jonah and stay outside looking in.  Let us be like Abraham, David, Esther, John and yes Jesus Christ, saying yes to the calling of Our Heavenly Father and relying on the sacrificial body and blood of the Lamb of God to see us through.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we admit that we are made fearful by Your calling.  We so often find that Your calling is against what the world would have us do and we ask for your forgiveness when we try the world’s answer first.  Pour Out Your Spirit on us Dear Father, restoring our focus on you and strengthening our spirit to follow You.  We are so thankful for what You have provided us; He who is Immanuel, who is shown in the sign of the fish, who as He did to the thousands, will supply every want and need when it seems impossible that could happen.  That in following Him, we would live lives of praise to Your Name we pray.  In the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah……Arise go to Nineveh…….”  Jonah 1:1

But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord….”  Jonah 1:3

I purposely did not title this post free will versus Our Heavenly Father’s plan.  For the interaction of the two has always been a great mystery and all too often a subject of contention between both believers and nonbelievers and even between believers.  Yet it seems to me, from the bible, there is no real contest between our free will and the fulfillment of God’s plan.  We do not have the power to thwart His divine will.  So of what consequence is our free will?  To us and our relationship with Our Heavenly Father; everything.

We are told that Nineveh is a great city.  However, it is not a Jewish city.  It is the capital of the Assyrians.  Perhaps that is why Jonah has no desire to have anything to do with them.  We’ve seen reluctance to answer God’s call before.  Non other than Moses himself, tried to dissuade God from sending Him to Egypt to save God’s people.  Finally, Moses acquiesced.  Jonah did not.

Jonah had the free will to run and try to hide.  However, Nineveh still needed to be saved.  God had already decided that Jonah was His man.  And God always gets His man.  “God won’t find me in Tarshish ” Jonah thinks.  So if indeed Jonah’s free will had any power as it applied to God’s plan; God would have had to turn to someone else.  Instead, God turns to a fish.

It is after a horrendous storm and when Jonah is at the depths of his misery that his free will changes and he calls out to God to have mercy on him.  God hear’s Jonah and delivers him.  It would seem then that Jonah’s will would become in sync with His Heavenly Father.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  For God calls again for Jonah to go to Nineveh.  Jonah at least has the good sense to know fleeing won’t work but he is none too happy about being called again.

Jonah preaches an upcoming cataclysmic destruction in 40 days because of the city’s evilness.  Interestingly enough, in the bible, it does not say that Jonah called upon the city to repent.  No, he just proclaimed their overthrow in 40 days.  But the people get the message and believe it anyway.  Even the king takes off his royal garments, puts on sackcloth and sits in a pile of ashes to show humble repentance for their evil (much we could learn from their example).  God sees their repentance, has mercy on them and decides not to destroy them.  Jonah is not at all pleased.

Jonah in essence tells God: “I knew you were going to do this.  That is why I didn’t want to come.  You made me look the fool because I said what you wanted and then it didn’t happen!”  In Jonah’s free will, he feels so used that he just wants to die.  Using a plant and a worm God again tries to teach Jonah a lesson about mercy and faith.  The book ends without us knowing if Jonah ever came around.

So to me here’s the bottom line.  God’s plan was for Nineveh to be warned and for Jonah to accomplish it.  And that’s exactly what happened.  So did Jonah’s free will have any impact?  To God’s plan; not really.  To Jonah most certainly.  You see at every turn Jonah had the free will to accept God’s plan, see it as a blessing and find joy and comfort in it.  Jonah instead decided to see God’s plan as an unnecessary burden.  He saw God’s mercy to Nineveh as a travesty and refused to receive any of the bountiful blessings that would have come from his embracing of God’s will.

God has a plan for you and I as well as for all believers.  If we are open to it, the Holy Spirit who, sent by God to dwell within us and testify to God’s plan will guide us.  Yet we have the free will to reject the realization that Our Heavenly Father is acting in our lives.  Understand this, it is only the realization that we’re rejecting.  That does not change the fact that Our Heavenly Father has a plan and is acting on it.  We have the free will to acknowledge the triumphs that we have here on earth as blessings from Our Heavenly Father, or we can decide that it is due solely to our own talents.  We can see struggles as a way of bringing us closer to Our Heavenly Father in ultimate triumph or we can see them as cruel twists of fate or simply bad luck.  We have the free will to reach out in prayer, supplication and worship to Our Heavenly Father or go throughout our life as if we are left to our own devices.

God’s plan will win out in the end; every time.  We have the free will to embrace the plan, feeling the Love with which it was devised, embracing the joy, comfort and blessings which come from its implementation and being confident in the salvation that comes from its fruition.  It is in those, free will decisions, that we will define ourselves as belonging to Him or not.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we thank you that You have seen fit to have an intimate, loving relationship with each of us culminating in a perfect plan for our lives.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we use our free will to try to modify or reject Your plan.  Show us Your Will in our plan that we might become fully engaged in seeing the plan through to its triumphant end.  That by living out Your plan for us, we would live lives of praise to Your Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

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