“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah . . .” (Jonah 1:1).
You can believe in God and still run from God.
Seems those who believe are often the ones most likely to run, looking for some loophole, seeking a way to evade the God that they have come to know. This is as old as Adam and Eve. Made to be God’s image bearers, they enjoyed an easy intimate fellowship with their creator. And yet, having sought their own happiness apart from God, they hid themselves. They heard God’s voice, sensed his approach, and they ran.
Not much has changed. God’s presence, God’s voice, can be disruptive. And when our lives are disrupted, we tend to resist. That resistance sometimes becomes an all out run. So it was with the prophet Jonah. The Forrest Gump of biblical run-from-God characters.
Running in Place
Jonah’s running was not subtle. Take a modern-day map and place Jonah somewhere in Israel. God’s word came to Jonah, telling him to “arise . . . go . . . and call out against” the Assyrian city of Nineveh. That’s a tough neighborhood for a Jewish prophet, situated in what we know as Iraq. You could get on a plane and go to Nineveh today if you wanted to.
Jonah, instead of moving north and east, went west and south where he paid the fare for a boat ride to Tarshish. As best we can tell, that’s Spain – nowhere close to Nineveh. Opposite side of the world, in fact. Again, not subtle.
Our running from God is rarely that blatant. Of course, to the casual observer, Jonah’s flight from God was not obvious. No one looked at him and thought, “That man is running from God.” Same with you and me. We seem particularly good at running in place. Forget the call to Nineveh and the boat to Tarshish. We defect without changing uniforms. We maintain our decent lives and run from God.
Our God Speaks
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah.” The trouble seems to begin when God speaks. Were God content to sit quietly in the heavens, benignly watching us from a distance, we’d be fine. But our God speaks. God’s word comes to us, and that’s where the running begins or not.
God’s word calls for response; it makes things happen. The Bible begins with God speaking the world into existence. All that we see is here because God spoke. The Psalmists understood that snow falls at the command of God. And when the snow melts it is because God sent forth his word and melted it (Psalm 147:18). When Jesus came he was the living word. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). His invitation, “Follow me,” called for response. Our God speaks. And if we’re honest, that’s the problem.
The word we hear – written in scripture and lived in Jesus – demands response. We say yes or no, we stay or go, we obey or not. Sometimes we run from God with selective listening. The problem isn’t that we don’t believe in God. The problem is that somehow God has spoken to a part of my life that I’m not willing to yield. For Jonah it was his hatred of Nineveh. He would not go there.
That’s when God sent a storm. So often a storm is what we find when we will not yield ourselves to the voice that calls us.
Pursuit, not Punishment
God hurled a great wind on the sea that nearly shattered the boat within which Jonah was hiding. This is not to say that God sends a storm into your life now because of what you did then. What we can say is that God is involved and purposeful in our storms – and sometimes his storm is his pursuit. It is not his punishment.
The storm was sent to draw Jonah back to God. God was chasing the prophet, and God just might be chasing you in your storm. Running from God is an expression of our determination to manage our own lives. We will not be told where to go. The design and destination of our life belong to us and we look to God for support.
There’s nothing like a storm – or any disruption beyond our capacity to control and manage it – to remind us that we are not at the center of life. Storms have a way of defying us, humbling us, reducing us to nothing, and bringing us back to the center of God’s will. Not as pay-back, but as guidance.
In our storms we often ask, ‘Why did this happen?’ A better question might be, ‘What is this telling me about God?
This question is best answered as we slow down. Stop running. And Listen. How can you do that today?
Speak your word to us, O God, and make us ready to hear. Having heard, may we be ready to respond in obedience. And when we run or ignore your direction in our lives, pursue us with your mercy – even in the storms that come from your hand. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.