Monday, 29 May 2017

The Many... and the one

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one".  Spock (Star Trek 2).
"Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many". Kirk (Star Trek 3).

One of the things that religion is often damned for is its exclusivity - as in it only really applied to those who are part of a particular flock - but there are telling examples when people in general pick up on the fact that something much bigger is going on.

One of the best examples of this in the Bible is about a typically self-referential man named Jonah.

The story begins with a total shock to the system. A pagan city called Nineveh is in real trouble, so God speaks to Jonah and tells him to get up and go to these people to warn them of their plight.

What would you do?
Well, Jonah was having none of it... Lower himself to go and help a bunch of pagans, ha!
He runs to the port and jumps on the first ship he can find heading in the other direction.

Well, that's that then - Jonah's off, and that's all there is to it.

Not quite.

Once at sea, there's a huge storm, and the Sailors realize that these aren't normal conditions - somethings bringing them bad fortune, so Jonah is awoken from his slumber (some people can sleep through anything!), and they discover that he's the cause of the trouble, so he's thrown overboard, as they recognize they cannot trifle with the God Jonah knows.

Alternative 'transport' is then provided, and Jonah finds himself spewed out... beside Nineveh.  Reluctantly, Jonah does what he's been asked to, and, yes, the people believe his message and pray and fast for help from God.

So, job done then.

Not quite.

Jonah is totally ticked off by the fact that these unrighteous pagans have actually turned to God, and asks God to just end him. God, instead, initially provides him with a plant to shelter under, but then the plant dies, God seeking to teach Him something about what really counts.

The book ends with God seeking to tell Jonah why all this has happened. Here's a city, he says, with some 120,000 people. It was so big, Jonah had himself noted, it took three days to walk around. These folks needed to hear what you had to say - they were ripe for something other than their folly - they just needed the right word at the right moment.

The story, however, is not just about this vast company. It's equally about a man who thought he'd worked out his priorities and who thought, because he prayed a great deal and abstained from certain things, he was just fine, but he wasn't.

Here was a man who needed to come to understand the true value of God's amazing mercy, and it was clearly a hard lesson for him to learn.

So Nineveh got it's messenger, and was saved, and, hopefully, Jonah got the message.

Job done, right?

Not quite.

What this story tells us is that this God is the one who sees and knows us, whether we're like Jonah - comfortable in our own "religion", or just doing the latest thing that's popular, and what's both wonderful and worrying is that He loves us all, and is going to shake things up because he does, so we cannot allow our days here to just pass idly by without a care.

If religion, or the lack of it, leaves us detached from what counts, then I pray we'll have a share in the mercy of this story, because what should really matter in this universe of ours is a love deeper than we can possibly imagine, but can truly know, because we were meant to do so.

The encouraging message of Jonah is that it's not over, and the needs of the many, the few, and the one, are all being accounted for.

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