Jonah Tried to Avoid God
Jonah did everything he could to get away from God.
First, he tried to escape. He ran away. He tried to reach the furthest place he could find from where the Lord had sent him — he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish at the far end of the Mediterranean Sea. When God sent a storm to get his attention, Jonah slept in the hold.
Second, he denied. When the sailors asked about who he was, he replied, ““I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” It wasn’t true. He didn’t fear God. If he did, he would have been in Nineveh, not on a boat headed for Tarshish.
Third, he was blatantly defiant. When he could no long escape, and when it was clear that he was not acting as if he feared God, he still had a chance to repent, to cry out to God for mercy, and submit to whatever God required. But he didn’t. He stubbornly forced the sailors to throw him overboard. Essentially, he chose suicide over obedience. But God had another plan . . .
We Are Capable of the Same Thing
We are capable of all of the same mistakes Jonah made. We attempt to avoid the presence of God in the same ways Jonah did.
We try to escape. We try to distract ourselves from what God has for. Solomon identifies many ways that we do this in Ecclesiastes. We use pleasure, work, or human wisdom to distract ourselves from God. We chase after legacies or wealth in order to escape from God. We consume ourselves with politics or laughter or youth in order to avoid dealing with God. Solomon found it all meaningless, and yet we still pursue it today. And we would do well to heed Solomon’s conclusion:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. —Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
We also deny. We tell ourselves that we are doing better than we really are. We struggle, we fail, we sin, but we convince ourselves that we’re okay, that we’re “works in progress,” that “God’s not through with us yet.” But we’re fooling ourselves. This is not the life God has called us to.
And when we’re finally confronted with the reality of our situation, when we can’t deny it any longer, we are capable of pure defiance. And that’s a dangerous place to be, because true children of God will not continue in sin. But we choose sin, perhaps telling ourselves that we will confess it in the morning, and all will be well. But we cannot mock God, and we fool ourselves if we believe we can.
But if we truly belong to Him, He will not let us continue down that path. As He did with Jonah, He will do whatever is necessary to bring us to a point of repentance. It may not be as dramatic as being swallowed by a giant fish, but “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to the day of completion.” And whatever that means, He’s going to do.