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Christian Biblical Studies






By A. Prentice

I HAD OCCASION recently to drive abroad. Adapting to the other side of the road and having the steering wheel situated where the front passenger would normally sit, was not too difficult. Still, I would often attempt to enter my vehicle on the passenger side. On returning home, for a few days I made the opposite mistake.

Habit can be a lifesaver.

Take the simple act of crossing the road: look right-left-then right again. Unless, of course you live in a country in which traffic moves on the right-hand side. In such a case your life-saving habit might work against you.


Habits come in all shapes and sizes. There are those which we all cultivate and are reflexive, requirements for functioning in the world at large. From reciting the A-Z to counting your change. Most habits are ‘user-friendly’ and simplify the routine of life, in much the same way as the automatic functions of a telephone or the computer under the bonnet of your car do. The human brain is itself automated to carry on various bodily processes without your having to be aware of them – ‘in the background’, so to speak. In some ways the modern computer mimics this ancient biological fact, even ‘updating’ the software in your machine without your intervention. A fact, which, as I’ve pointed out before, makes one wonder how it’s sensible to conclude that the computer is a by-product of intelligence, while the human anatomy is not. But I digress.


One’s personality comprises, to a large extent, the sum of habits developed over the years through repetition, reinforcement and reiteration. We tend to redo actions and patterns of thought which bring pleasure or profit in one form or another. For this reason we are unlikely to become addicted to falling off walls or hitting our thumb with a hammer. Manners, patterns of thought, modes of conduct, are taught and learned and often fixed for life by the time we gain adulthood. They may be good or bad. But their influence upon us is nearly irresistible. They define us. We recognise self through them. We’re comfortable with them and nurture them.


Much like Jonah and his gourd.


The account is in the book of Jonah, Chapters 3 and 4, but to refresh the memory: At God’s urging, Jonah predicted the destruction of Nineveh within forty days unless its citizens repented of their sins – a prospect Jonah evidently regarded as highly unlikely.


So he perched himself on a hill overlooking the city to observe the expected annihilation. He found a shady spot under a leafy gourd, or bushy plant. Towards the end of the forty days God caused the plant to wither and die.


This upset Jonah immensely. To top it off, the residents of Nineveh, under the urging of their king, repented. Jonah was unhappy about this outcome, too. Their reversal had blunted his expectation and, from his point of view, his prowess as a prophet. And Jonah expressed more anger at the loss of his cover than over the possible dire fate of tens of thousands in Nineveh.


Jonah was focused on Self.


He’d become accustomed to his own comfort a comfort which God had supplied him with in the first place.


And out of his short-sighted self-interest Jonah complained to God. Imagine! Complaining to God. Hmm . . . sound familiar? Sometimes we treasure our well-worn, habits and traits so highly that we are reluctant to let them go. Unwittingly, we often cherish the present state of things more highly than our eternal future.


Copyright October 2010

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