“That the conversion which God accepts is an interested one is self-evident. Every conversion is interested. Who can dare to say that his own life and death are of no concern to him? What ridiculous idealism would make us so pure, so spiritual, so objective that we could be converted for any other reason than because we are in danger of death and dangers of all kinds? To claim for oneself an abstract and idealistic conversion of this kind is to pretend to bring to God a valuable sacrifice, a perfect man. It is to want to replace Christ. It is to reach the summit of arrogance. The cry which God hears comes from the depths of the abyss, from sickness and suffering, from the heart which is humbled, bruised, and despairing. This is the cry which produces conversion because things cannot stay as they are, and conversion is a change of route for man. The moment a man decides to change his style of life in this way, the moment he remembers God again, his way which was plunging more and more deeply into the dark is suddenly directed to the light in a dizzy reascent. The truth is that God responds, not to our better feelings, but to the desperate cry of the man who has no other help but God. God responds just because man is in trouble and has nowhere to turn.
“Obviously, when man has somewhere to turn he does not pray to God and God does not come to him. As long as man can invent hopes and methods, he naturally suffers from the pretension that he can solve his own problems. He invents technical instruments, the state, society, money, and science. He also invents idols, magic, philosophy, spiritualism, and all these things give him hope in himself that he can direct his own life and control his destiny. They all cause him to turn his back on God. As long as there is a glimmer of confidence in these means man prefers to stake his life on them rather than handing it over to God. When the sailors tried to save the ship by their nautical skill, Jonah slept. All these aids had to be shattered, all solutions blocked, and man’s possibilities hopelessly outclassed by the power of the challenge, to cause Jonah to return to God. Only when man has lost the vast apparatus of civilization, in personal response, does man remember God.”
Jacques Ellul, The Judgment of Jonah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971) pp. 56-57