Jonah and Me
One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the one about Jonah, not because it has a dramatic scene of Jonah being swallowed by a marine animal but because I can relate to running away from God. (If you need to refresh your memory, read the book of Jonah.) You may also have times when you have tried to runaway from God. Spoiler alert—God always wins.
Jonah did not want to do what God had asked him to do. He did not like the people of Nineveh, so he did not want to see them receive a chance to be redeemed. Jonah had become judge and juror, already giving sentence on the stubborn people of Nineveh. When God clearly was going to offer a way for the people to reverse direction and had chosen Jonah to be the herald of this good news, Jonah refused. Jonah knew that God is loving and forgiving. He knew that when the people were offered another chance, they probably would take it and God would forgive their mistakes. This is not the outcome which Jonah wanted, so he chose to run in the other direction to avoid Nineveh.
Maybe some of Jonah’s story resonates with you. I know that it does for me. There have been times when I have chosen to be judge, juror, and sentencer for individuals. Multiple times I have not wanted to do what the Spirit was encouraging and guiding me to do. I have tried to run and hide from God because I resisted what I knew was God’s intention in a specific situation. God has seemed unfair and unreasonable to me. I have my own plans and my own desires which apparently God was not taking into account. There were justified reasons for me saying no to God and I could back those up with reason and good judgment.
Jonah’s story concludes with Jonah eventually going to Nineveh, sharing God’s opportunity for a second chance with the people, and the people reversing their direction which results in God’s forgiveness. Now there is a lot in the story between Jonah’s escape and this conclusion but as I mentioned above, God always wins. The reason for God winning is that God is love and always works for the good of all God’s people (Romans 8:28). God chooses humans to carry out this work. Since God operates differently than us (Isaiah 55:8-9), we often see them in conflict with our personal desires. This is what tripped Jonah up, and what has tripped me up each time.
A variety of reasons are behind my attempts to not go in God’s direction. The one which we see in Jonah’s story is that Jonah did not like the people of Nineveh and did not see them as worthy to receive God’s grace. I hate to admit that I have felt this way about certain individuals at various times in my life. I want to justify these feelings based on how they have acted towards me or others. Other times I have resisted because I am concerned about the perceptions people may have about me. Then exist times when the direction God may be leading does not coincide with my hopes and dreams for my personal outcomes. I have become quite good at justifying all these reasons to head a different direction.
Whenever I embark in a direction different from what God may intend, I find that God will let me set off on my own journey. Times have existed when I even fool myself into believing that I have actually beaten God. I can also convince myself that apparently God has seen the wisdom in the direction I have chosen and is actually blessing my efforts. But, even in the midst of my celebrating, I know the effort is a misguided attempt at exerting my power and control.
Like Jonah, the end result is always the same for me. After taking time to try it “my way,” I end up exactly where God intended me to be from the start and doing the work which God had desired. Again, as the story of Jonah shows, my journey is usually filled with storms, havoc, and panic. I make a mess of the situation. I create more hardship for myself and others then is necessary. Yet God is patient. God waits for me to go through all my attempts and welcomes me back with love when I return (Luke 15:11-32). My running away has ended once again (for now).
What might you be running from? Why are you running? Do not worry, God will let you get your exercise and will be waiting for your return as God sets you back on the right path. There may even be a day when you trust that God has the right idea (Proverbs 3:5).