I would like to call Jennifer Stuart a friend, but I’ve never met her, so perhaps I should just say she’s a “fellow blogger and metaphorist.” Jennifer just bugged me in her recent post about observing bugs in her garden, particularly a spitting bug she ended up flicking out of it.
Got me to thinking of Jonah and his worm and awakening me from a writing stupor (my mind has been so full, so bubbling and boiling with and over so much that anything I would have written would have either been dishonest or would have holy obscenities).
The story of Jonah is one huge succulent metaphor – or perhaps better – a series of succulent metaphors.
There sits Jonah, sulking, skulking on that hill, waiting, hoping, demanding that God wipe out an entire city because of their unredeeming and irredeemable violence and cruelty – a city that God was determined to spare. It’s a story that reminds us that there aren’t two gods, one an Old Testament god of anger and brimstone and another New Testament god of love and benevolence, but rather only one God who is mostly misperceived, misapprehended, misrepresented, or just simply missed, period, by people naturally inclined towards anger and alienating judgment no matter what testament we’re talking about. It’s a story that has “love wins” written all over it.
Except for Jonah. He is determined for hell to make an appearance in this story – having experienced a watery version of hell himself.
Prophetic, pathetic rant.
I’m sure none of us can relate.
And so the Lord prepares a plant, a gourd, that springs up as if aided by the ultimate batch of Miracle Gro, and Jonah basks in the personal comfort of its shade as he continues to wait for searing fire to fall on infidels below.
But God isn’t done with the ranting prophet, any more than he’s done with the city below.
He prepares a worm.
The Hebrew word is תֹּולַעַת (tow-lah-at) which is the feminine form of “worm” in Hebrew. For some reason, that it is a female worm seems especially fitting. Henry Morris has this to say about the worm:
“When the female of the scarlet worm species was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle. As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted.” (Biblical Basis of Modern Science, 1985)
Morris goes on to point out how the worm serves as a metaphor of Christ (but then we followers of Christ tend to see him everywhere). The worm is fixed to a tree, lays eggs beneath her body, dies, then turns scarlet red. Not a bad picture. If Jonah had seen her, he surely would have tried to flick her off, even as we collectively tried (try) to flick and flip Jesus off by fixing him to his own tree.
But here’s the point (you knew I might get to one).
God prepared a worm.
A worm that we would see as a pest, as bad for the plant whose shade we are enjoying, but who, in removing that shade, would expose us to the heat of a key teaching moment in life – a crucial, intersection of metaphor and morals where we might truly learn something down deep.
In losing his plant because of a worm he wished he had flicked away, Jonah is confronted with his own shallowness as God exposes his completely selfish attachment and subsequent anger over the loss of a plant that he had nothing to do with – while expecting God to callously turn his back on an entire city of human beings that he birthed, among whom he lived and moved and had his being; a city including 120,000 innocents who didn’t even have any crimes to confess – and look at all those cows!
It’s amazing the lesson that can be conveyed by a pest that we without hesitation would flick away.
How many truly annoying people have I encountered that I would simply flick away if I could – but who have provided me (usually contrary to their intentions) some significant life lessons.
If I could have seen the cancer cells forming inside me through the fall of 2011, how readily I would have flicked them. Hard. Who wouldn’t? But spit away they did, their spittle forming a cancerous tumor that, while literally sucking the life out of me, ended up being a portal for life at deeper levels heretofore (I have always wanted to use that word in a sentence!) unexperienced by me.
No, I would not ask for such a worm to attach itself to the tree of my life. Who would?
And though it messes with the theology of some, including myself, I without hesitation can say, at least in my case, it was a worm that God prepared for me. A worm he had attach itself to me. Now, a major intestinal surgery and twelve chemo sessions later, the “worm” is excised (and I am very happy it’s gone), but it has left behind life.
Oh the life that can come through pesky bugs we’re so quick to flick away…