You can run, but you can’t hide!

Forgive me for saying so, but it seems that we have ostensibly wrecked the point of the book of Jonah. Our poor Sunday school children walk away with little more than the coolness of being swallowed alive by a whale then spit out three days later. I mean, what kid doesn’t like a fantastical story about being in the stinky, rotten belly of a fish, then getting spit back out onto land- alive!

Perhaps we grown-ups have held on a little too tightly to our old “Jonah and the Whale” story ideas- and we’ve missed the lessons as well.

Reading through the book this week, these lessons struck me right between the eyes. {Yes, the miracle of God keeping Jonah alive in the digestive system of a great fish is well, amazing (gross, but amazing, none the less).}

BUT here is the MORE AMAZING part: God takes a rebel like Jonah and teaches him about His sovereignty and saving grace. Jonah is the perfect legalist- he has all the right answers, but not the right motives.  He knows what obedience looks like, but willfully chooses to disobey instead.

This is so me at moments! Is this you? Do we run and hide from God, hoping to get out of doing what He wants us to? Thinking that just maybe, He is okay with our “secret” sins or perhaps a little willful assertion of  “I am master of my life” from time to time? Run we can. Hide we can’t.

God loves us and will relentlessly pursue us to come back to Him. Jonah recognizes and admits this while praying inside the fish: “Salvation comes from the LORD.”  Maybe the stench had got to him, but he humbles himself, recognizes that he was saved from certain death and that he better get serious about obeying. You know the story: he is projectile vomited out onto land. Whew!

Out of the fish and into the city:

Legalist Jonah, all high and mighty with his word from God, does finally obey and goes to do what he was supposed to in the first place. He tells the people of Nineveh to repent and would you believe it, they do, all of them from greatest to least?! Jonah is so happy and thankful to the Lord- NOT! He gets angry about that. Like, why would God save THOSE PEOPLE?! Again, he knows the right answers: “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love…”, but he balks against the justice and sovereignty of God.

But that isn’t the last of it.

In the final chapter, Jonah goes out with a rather inconclusive bang. He sits down to pout about things. (Do you ever pout about God’s doings? Nah. Me neither!) It’s hot as heck. God brings a vine for refreshing shade. I can just see Jonah’s smug smile and hear his self-congratulatory, “ahhhh, finally things are going my way!”. Then a worm eats the vine and not only that, a scorching hot wind comes a-blowin’! Jonah wishes death on himself, he is so boiling with anger. In his final act of disobedience, we hear Jonah still trying to make himself master of his destiny and complaining against the justice of God in saving the city of Nineveh.

Not every story has a neat and tidy, moral ending. (And we don’t tend to like those stories.) But I love the book of Jonah because I am so like him- a struggler in my own right, continually needing to come to God, be forgiven by Him, be chided by Him, be reminded of His sovereign rule in my life, that He alone saves us by His GRACE, that He gives and takes away for a purpose, and that I can run but I will never hide from God. He knows me, He loves me, and He wants me to love him passionately and do His will, not my own.

I am just so glad that I didn’t have to float around in the dark, stinking, half-digested stomach bile of a fish to figure that out!!!