Wrong Way, Jonah!

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (Jonah 1:3, NIV)

Have you ever called to a toddler only to watch him pivot and run in the opposite direction? Many of us have, and how do we respond? Often by running to overtake the child — and then scooping them up! This could be a moment of hugs and laughter… or it could be a moment of correction. But either way, I see that child in Jonah: when God called to this prophet, he pivoted — and then he ran full speed in the opposite direction.

Although I identify with Jonah his behavior still makes me cringe. He knew so much about God… I mean, just read his dialogues — that’s the puzzling part: if he knew so much, why did he flee? Didn’t he know that an omniscient God could find him? That an omnipresent God could catch him? That an omnipotent God could punish him?

Of course he did. Jonah understood that God had the power to destroy entire cities, so I’m sure that he understood the futility of his personal flight. And what was he thinking anyway — that God would respond to his protest by changing his purposes for Nineveh? Now, we can’t crawl inside of Jonah’s head to be sure… but we can all identify with his flight. Who among us has not fled from the Lord?

I believe that nearly everyone, and not just believers, can identify with flight. Those of us who know the Lord may identify more specifically with Jonah because our relationship to God is not unlike his. But even unsaved people flee “the good” — their moral responsibilities in this world — only to find their own consciences chasing them down. Perhaps this is why being-chased-and-overtaken is such a common nightmare, and perhaps this explains the broad secular knowledge of Jonah… a bad example in a big fish.

Jonah’s actions… and not just his fleeing … show him to be a bitter man — and those of us with some life experience probably avoid these types of people. But am I being too hard on God’s man to Nineveh? Let’s look at the facts: Jonah initially protested about his assignment; he turned his back on God and fled; he hated it that God showed mercy on Nineveh… and this in spite of the fact that thousands of children were saved who would have otherwise perished! But what strikes me most powerfully is that even after God won the day, Jonah sulked… and even despaired of life! Therefore, since God accomplished his will in spite of this sour little man, I am sure that he can do the same through us.

You see, even we earnest Christians flee God. We do it overtly; we do it subtly… but we do it pretty constantly. And God is always pushing us to go to Nineveh — that place in our lives where we simply do not want to go. So we board our ships, we roil the waters, we flee and sulk… although not in big dramatic ways… but just as surely as Jonah.

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