Running from God

Running from God

Jonah is a book of the Bible that most of us are at least vaguely familiar with because of the “great fish”, but we are often prone to neglect or dismiss this book by relegating it to the realm of children’s material for VBS or Kid’s classes. However, a close reading of this book and reflection on its message reveals that it cannot be so easily dismissed because Jonah’s story is our story.

1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

Jonah 1:1-3

God sends Jonah east to Nineveh [modern day Iraq/Iran] but Jonah heads as far west as his mind can conceive of going to Tarshish [modern day Spain]. Jonah flees from the presence of the LORD, which literally translated from the Hebrew text is from the “face of the LORD”. We may be tempted to look at Jonah’s attempt to escape and ask, “Doesn’t Jonah know Psalm 139?”

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

Psalm 139:7-10

Rest assured, as a prophet of God, he does. Jonah knows that there is no place on, above, or beneath the earth that he can flee where God is not present. However, Jonah is not running from God’s spatial presence but His relational presence…not His omnipresence but His felt presence. That place where he senses God’s finger on his heart pressing him toward the unknown or uncomfortable. That place where he senses God’s hand on him directing him toward something that contradicts his desires and cuts against his natural bent for control. Jonah is a fugitive from God, and so are we.

When God calls us to salvation by grace, through faith, and in Christ by nature we run away toward trying to earn our own way, by our works, so that we can be our own savior and when the credits roll on the story of our lives our name will be in producer and director slots rather than God’s. When God calls us to integration in community we run away toward isolation from community. When God calls us to authenticity and transparency we run away toward hypocrisy and secrecy. When God calls us to generosity we run away toward greed. When God calls us to pick up the towel and serve others we run away to self-centered pursuits and interests. When God calls us to purity of mind and body we run away toward perversion and fantasy. When God calls us to reconciliation with those who have sinned against us we run away toward resentment. There is often a “but” in verse 3 of our story just as there is in Jonah’s.

Truth be known, all of us have been or are on the run from God. We were born as fugitives from God and came out of the womb with hearts and minds bent on running & resisting.  Truth be known, by nature all of us attempt to evade & escape God’s relational and felt presence in our lives. Truth be known, without the intervention of God by His grace we, like Forest Gump, would run all our lives.

The good news is that nearly 800 years after Jonah lived God would commission another prophet and send Him to His enemies. This prophet would not run away from where the Father was sending Him, but would run toward His enemies full of grace and truth. This prophet would not turn away from “those people” but would turn toward us fugitives with a heart filled with compassion because we too were like sheep without a shepherd. This prophet would not attempt to evade and escape the Father’s call on His life but would humbly pray not my will but yours. This prophet’s name is Jesus, and because you and I ran from God, He ran towards us!

You see, Jonah experienced the word of God coming to Him to tell him how to live and where to go but those of us who live this side of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ not only experience the word of God coming to us, but can also experience the Word of God coming for us! In John 1 Jesus is identified as the Word of God who was full of grace and truth, who came not only to us to tell us how to live, but for us because we couldn’t live that way.  If all we’ve ever seen is the word of God coming to us to tell us how to live and what to do then we will naturally run away as far and as fast as we can.  However, if we see the Word of God coming for us in all humility full of grace and truth, it will undercut our prideful attempt to run our own lives and lay a foundation upon which we will be able to say yes when the word of God comes to us. Jesus came for us.  Jesus obeyed where we rebelled. Jesus humbled Himself to death where we pridefully exalt ourselves to gain life. Jesus submitted where we resisted. Jesus did what Jonah, you, and I did not: He said yes! 

Only if we see and savor the Word of God coming for us will we be able to say yes when the word of God comes to us. What is God calling you to? Where is He pressing His finger in your life?  Will you say yes?

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