Jailhouse Religion

Jailhouse Religion

The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea . . . Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. Jonah 1:4-5

It is not uncommon to see men in jail come to Bible study, only to leave God at the door when released. With lives in crisis, they cling to God but then abandon faith when that crisis seems to resolve. Religion is often a good-luck charm used only in times of great need.

This seems to have been the case with the crew of the ship that was bearing Jonah away from God’s plan in today’s passage. As Jonah was running from God, God sent a terrible storm, threatening to destroy the ship. In their dire need, the mariners cried out to various gods for salvation. Perhaps these were religious men, but they did not turn to the one God until all else failed.

It is often only in the worst of calamities that many will give a thought to God. It is easy then, to be cynical about those who find faith only in jail. That’s not real faith. That’s just asking God for something when you need it. You’ll leave God when the disaster is over.

If we are going to be critical of the faith of others though, we must be honest enough to ask ourselves the same question. Do I do this? What is the measure of true faith? Do I turn to God only when life is hard or when I need something? Or, do I follow God daily, in good times and bad?

I’ve certainly been guilty of asking for God’s help only in the consequences of my addiction. The true measure of the authenticity of my faith though, was not whether my circumstances changed, but whether I changed.

Inmates are not the only ones prone to jailhouse religion. Most of us, if we are honest, have been guilty of this pseudo-faith that only turns to God in our dire need. It’s not wrong to turn to God in suffering. That is often how God gets our attention. True faith though, sees that we always need God and that we must pursue him, instead of ourselves, in both good times and bad.

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