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Jonah 1: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah set out 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 his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”
I don’t know about you, but I can relate to Jonah’s mistakes. When I read about how he tried to outrun God, I think of times when I’ve been out of the Lord’s will and resisted his word. When I read how Jonah conspired with others to try to sail away from God, I think of times when my rebellion affected others. As I read how he sank to the bottom of the sea, I think of times when I blamed God for problems I created myself.
On his journey, Jonah learned there is no place where God isn’t. God was in Jerusalem, where Jonah probably lived; God was in Nineveh, where God told Jonah to go; and God was on the ship on the way to Tarshish, where Jonah wasn’t supposed to be. I wonder if Jonah remembered what the Psalmist wrote, as he shivered in the storm: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can 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 settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalms 139: 7-10 NRS)
Today, it is very comforting to me to know that God is every where, but it wasn’t to Jonah. He was running from God and he hoped he could find a place where God wasn’t.
The problem was that Jonah knew he could not hide from the creator of the universe. Any prophet worth his salt knew that. Even so, he figured he could at least give God a run for his money.
Perhaps he could slip far enough away into this enemy territory that good ole Yahweh would leave him alone.
If God saw how far away Jonah had gone from the intended task, maybe he would give up the chase and leave Jonah in peace.
Have you ever felt like that? Ever felt like you could slip far enough into the dark that God and your conscience and everyone else would leave you alone?
I am sure that you, like Jonah, underestimated the one who simply said, “Let there be light,” and instantaneously the massive ball of light we call the sun appeared from nothing. God was not so easily swayed by a little boat heading in the opposite direction.
We all know what happened. God could not be hidden from. Even when Jonah was out to sea, God was there. So, fast forward through the storm, the fish and journey to Nineveh and find the true point of this story: No matter where you go or what you do, you cannot pass from the eyes of God. And that can either be your greatest comfort or your greatest curse.
You want a little advice from one who has been in Jonah’s shoes? Let go and let God. Because if there is one thing I have learned about our heavenly father through this walk we call Christianity, it’s that he will not give up on you, even if you have already given up on him.
So given your odds of escaping him, why not turn around and face him? God is deeply interested in every single person on this earth ... including you.
The Rev. Drew Oakley is pastor of Carrollton United Methodist Church in Carrollton, Ky.