The sailors were terrified and asked Jonah: “What have you done?”
The Arihat, a sophisticated nuclear-powered submarine, was set to become the pride of the Indian Navy upon its launch in 2016. Nearly a decade in design and development, the underwater vessel was built at the cost of 2.9 billion dollars, stretched longer than a football field, and employed a crew of dozens.
But recently, it was revealed that the Arihat’s operation was sidelined for ten months when the submarine’s piping and other inner technologies became badly corroded by onrushing seawater.
How did this happen?
It happened when someone forgot to close a hatch on the sub.
3 billion bucks and they don’t have one of those beepers that tells you that the trunk is open!
Little oversights can cause disasters. The smallest disturbances can set off devastating chain reactions.
Sometimes we call this “Butterfly Effect.” That term has a close association with the work of a meteorologist and mathematician named Edward Lorenz. Lorenz and his colleagues reasoned that the presence of a tornado ripping across the country one day could be the result of a seagull flapping its wings hundreds of miles away the day before.
Everything, the Butterfly Effect theorizes, connects through systems. And small splashes can swell up to terrifying tides.
The Old Testament book of Jonah opens with one single man making one small choice. God wants Jonah to preach repentance in Nineveh. Jonah doesn’t particularly want to and decides to vacation in Tarshish instead.
One man, one choice. No big deal, right? One Little Sin. In our world today, we would probably look at Jonah and say, Well, it’s not our place to judge him. This is a private matter between Jonah and his God.
But the Bible tells a very different story. Other people get involved. Quickly, and unwillingly.
Verses 4-6 describe the rising impacts of Jonah’s One Little Sin:
The Lord sent a great wind on the sea. And such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
Suddenly, this isn’t just about Jonah. I like what Philip Cary says: “It’s as if Jonah ducked the Lord’s punch and it hit the boat instead. Now the sailors have to figure out what’s happening to them, and what to do about it.”
Suddenly, this is not just a private thing between Jonah and God anymore. It’s not just a personal matter or question of conscience. Jonah’s decision has become the sailors’ disaster. A ship like this would have crewed around 40 men; their lives now hang in the balance.
Why? Because of one man, one choice.
But really, the ripples careen even more widely than that: The text says that the sailors begin throwing their cargo overboard to try to lighten the ship. All of their inventory goes into the sea in hopes of saving their lives.
That cargo belonged to an even wider orbit of people. Men and women had invested in it. These commodities were the livelihood of merchants and buyers who now faced financial ruin. Maybe they’ll go bankrupt, land in into debtor’s prison, or even be sold into slavery. We can’t say for sure.
And that’s exactly the point. We can’t fathom the ripple effects of our sins.
Everything is linked. Everything is part of a system that is more intricate than we can understand. And all of us participate.
This is true regardless of your space on the liberal/conservative spectrum: Liberal people think economic ethics should be more public and less private. Conservative people think sexual ethics should be more public and less private. But all these things are connected with everything else. We can’t talk ourselves out of it, despite our efforts.
No, maybe I don’t really give much money to the church. But that’s between me and God. No. Your stubbornness and greed are depriving others of ministry.
Yes, I drink a lot – maybe more than I should – but that’s a private matter. No, it’s not. Your alcoholism is having huge effects on your relationships and your witness.
Sure, I get angry and lose my temper with my kids, but that’s just who I am. No, it’s re-coding their brains and creating generational patterns that will impact things for decades to come.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so fascinated with pornography. But it’s a victimless crime. No, it isn’t. You are empowering the abuse and exploitation of women, both those near to you and far away.
You’re on a boat to Tarshish. And you think that’s the end of it.
But do you feel that?: There’s a sudden breeze from the east.
You think your sin is just between you and God.
But look: The waves are rising.
It’s only a private issue, a small indulgence. You’re not perfect, after all.
But listen: There’s a distant sound of thunder.
Joppa’s sailors could see it. They could sense it. The weather was changing.
Jonah though? Jonah lay down and went to sleep. He cashed out. He slept, the Bible says, “a deep sleep.” A double-dose of Nyquil and a warm blanket, and Jonah was out.
He slept through the storm.
That’s the other thing about rippling sins. We’ve gotten so accustomed to them that we can sleep through the typhoons we’ve wrought in the lives of others. And too often, we don’t much care.
Are there poor people unable to eat or pay for their medicines around us? I don’t doubt it, but I’m tired. I don’t want to deal with that right now.
Are people dying for their faith? Well, they’re so far away, what can I do about it anyway? I’m going to take a nap.
Are kids in our community falling victim to child abuse? I’m sure they are, but I’m just worn out with the fight. I need to rest up a little while.
All around us, breakers are crashing. Sails are tearing. Cargo is sinking to the bottom of the sea.
And all the while we sleep soundly.
Snap to it: The trip to Tarshish is always going to be turbulent. Little Sins never are.
You think you’re just acting out your freedom. But there’s a storm brewing.
You think your little flaws are insignificant. But there’s a low-pressure system gathering strength to your west.
You think it’s a small thing. But compromises lead to Katrinas.
Thankfully – and here’s the hopeful ray in this stormy story – the opposite is also true.
Scripture is unequivocal that ripples run both ways. Incredible blessings cascade into the world with just a small amount of love. Tiny expressions of mercy touch off chain reactions of grace. The faith of a mustard seed can move mountains. Small copper coins are priceless.
What small act of confidence in God can you take today? What glimmer of New Creation can you hold out? What act of kindness for a brother or a sister can catalyze rushing streams of justice?
If butterflies can start cyclones, and apathy can capsize ships, then even the smallest splash of goodness and love can broadcast the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.