So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish – Jonah 2, again [Totally Hip Gratitude]

Jonah 2 Bible with Green and Blacks 85 percent Cacao Dark Chocolate

Today’s ChocolateGreen & Black’s 85% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Today’s Passage: Jonah 2

We’re not done with you yet, Jonah. Astute readers may have noticed the word “thanksgiving” at the end of Jonah’s poetic prayer in chapter two, so for this installment of Totally Hip Gratitude, we’re rewinding back into the belly of the big fish. Jonah was pleased with the shade-plant that God provided in chapter four, but he’s actually grateful for his divinely-appointed piscine rescuer. What light do Jonah’s words shine on thankfulness?

To begin with, Jonah offers a distinctly Jewish expression of thankfulness. The first words we hear Jonah say are “I am a Hebrew” (1:9), and here he promises God, “I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving” (2:9). It’s not clear to me whether he’s talking about one of those freewill offerings of thanksgiving that we saw in Leviticus, or if he means that he’ll give his ritually-prescribed sacrifices with explicit gratitude. That said, he makes it clear what he’s thankful for: “Salvation is from the Lord” (2:9). YHWH, God of the Hebrews, used a giant fish to save him from drowning, and he will use distinctly Jewish sacrifices to voice his thanks.

Jonah, of course, can’t make that sacrifice from inside the fish, so his thanksgiving contains a promise. In the conventional scenario, we get ourselves in a jam and promise God that we’ll straighten up, fly right, and do what pleases him if he’ll get us out. But Jonah’s already been saved from his junk. God’s given him a new lease on life. The promise comes from a place of actual thankfulness.

Moreover, Jonah sees himself as having a duty to God, as a result of having been saved. It’s not necessarily a duty to go to Nineveh and preach that message, though it becomes clear that he hasn’t gotten off the hook when chapter three opens and God commands him a second time to do the prophet thing. No, the duty is thankfulness itself. Jonah states, “That which I have vowed I will pay” (2:9). He owes it to God to acknowledge that God did him a solid.

So what are we supposed to take away here? When God does something good for us, is he just creating more work for us? I suppose you might look at it that way, but rather than dismiss it as inaccurate or unhelpful, I’ll ask a counter-question: can duties also be a gift from God? We’ve already seen that the opportunity for thankfulness can be a gift from God, a chance to give something back to the giver. If you want to say that it’s a burden as well, then fine. I’ll grant you that it’s a burden. Oh, woe is me, for I am saddled with the burden of carrying around the gift. What a chore it is to be saved from drowning and have to live my life.

Huh. I was trying to go sarcastic, but that actually came out more sincere than I expected. Life is a struggle, and it’s not always pleasant. But the struggle can be good.

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