We all do it.

Jonah 1:4-6 (NIV)

Then 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.

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

Everything about this passage is puzzling. The sailors instantly know this isn’t a natural storm and start looking for the supernatural cause. How? Jonah sleeps through it all, even though the storm is so violent that it threatens to destroy the ship. How?

The first puzzle isn’t too hard. The sailors are experienced, and simply recognize that this is no normal storm. Tossing the cargo overboard helps, but they sense that the only real fix is to placate whoever is behind this tempest. The culture of the day is to call out to their gods, hoping that they’ll chance upon the right one and get relief.

We don’t have a specific explanation for Jonah’s extraordinary behavior, but the ship’s captain doesn’t understand it either. “How can you sleep?” he asks.

This is there to confirm Jonah’s out-of-touch state of mind. He’s trying to pretend that things are not as they seem.

He’s in his own little world of denial.

Denial is so common that it has its own cliché. “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” People are simply amazing in their refusal to admit the obvious. You do it. I do it.

Think back at some of the best examples of denial that you’ve ever seen. Try to figure out how that person could have been so oblivious. You don’t have to fully understand but at least try to come up with some good guesses.

Now do the same thing for the times when you were the one in denial. If you can’t think of any, then ask someone else to point some out. Ouch! (Your children are positively gifted at this.) Most people aren’t aware of how often they’re in denial.

If you struggle to think of a time you were in denial, that may mean you’re in denial about that. Make the effort to recall an example. This is worth the time because you know more about your own denial than someone else’s. Thus, you can do a better job of analyzing how come you were so oblivious.

What were you thinking?

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.