Life with God takes us through an adventure of the heart. We journey through joy, through seas of sorrow, and through terrain marked with teaching and testimony. The prophet Jonah can be quite relatable as the Bible describes his responses to God’s call on his life. We like to think we listen. We like to think we are obedient. Yet, Jonah’s journey can be much closer to home than we dare to admit. Despite it all, every journey remains fully directed by God, and He handles our humanity with grace.
THE CALL AND ABANDON
It can be exciting when God calls, but it can also be scary. Jonah heard the word of the Lord calling him to go to Nineveh and decided to flee, not only in the opposite direction, but away from the very presence of God. What is it about God’s call that causes him to flee?
God’s message to Jonah takes all of one sentence. He says,
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come against me.” [Jonah 1:2]
A call from God requires us to arise, to act. It means we may face things or people who are perceived to be “great”. It is an opportunity from God to stand up for His values and His ways. We can think and overthink a God-given call, but know this – God has already given us all the information we need to obey.
In one sentence, God tells Jonah everything he needs to know about this assignment – the who, how and why.
- “Arise” – an instruction to get up now and obey in action.
- “Go to Nineveh” – who Jonah is to speak to.
- “Cry out against it” – what Jonah is to say.
- “Their wickedness has come against me” – why God wants Jonah to go.
This information should be reason enough to obey God, but Jonah runs in the opposite direction. When God calls us, what is it that stops us obeying Him? What is it that sometimes even makes us run away?
The most obvious complaint we see Jonah voice is that God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in love and “One who relents from doing harm” [Jonah 4:2]. In fact, Jonah quotes this as his reason from going away from the presence of God in the first place. As the conversation with God goes on, it is clear that Jonah has a different sense of what is right compared to God.
Jonah is angry that God has been merciful towards Nineveh. For him, their wickedness deserves destruction and that is what Jonah is waiting to see. He is so angry about this perceived injustice, that he tells God, “… it is better for me to die than live!” Seems dramatic but this may just be something we also do to God.
Think of a situation you have seen to be unfair. Someone deceitfully slanders another person, terrorists sweep into a village and destroy it, a person cheats on their spouse. God is just, and there are consequences for wrong decisions. Yet, he is also merciful and he gives grace. The murderer, liar and anyone who turns to God can receive His mercy and His salvation. When the situation is personal, we sometimes want to see the perpetrator suffer some sort of punishment. It seems unfair that they should receive the gladness that comes through grace and yet, God gives this to anyone who turns to Him.
God shows Jonah the difference between his thinking and God’s thinking when he makes a plant grow up to give Jonah shade from the scorching sun, only for it to wither the following day. Jonah shows frustration and anger at the death of this plant that gave him shade for just a day. If Jonah cared this much about the temporary plant, how much more did God care about the many people in Nineveh, for whom eternal life was at risk. In that moment, Jonah wanted to save a plant, but for eternity God wanted to save a people.
In [Isaiah 55:9] God says,
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And my thoughts than your thoughts.”
God sees a bigger picture that we do, and He calls us to abandon ourselves completely to Him. Our understanding, our plans, our self-sense of what is right; we can give these to God with total abandon knowing that He knows better, and more than we do. It is enough for God to give us instruction, and it is revelation to know His heart in it. Sometimes, God calls and we run away because we are confused, angry and lost in our own inability to understand the world and its time. God knows; He cares, He listens and He reveals His purposes to us with patience.
Some extra sharing: I have just started writing for Christian Today, and will be doing a piece for them every 5 weeks or so. These articles can be found at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/kristen-dang.html Thankful to God for this opportunity, and praying He will direct and use this for His glory.