“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (Jonah 1:3, NIV84)
Let’s be slow in pointing out Jonah’s error, lest we forget that there are fingers pointing back at ourselves. Who of us hasn’t (isn’t still) running in the opposite direction of the way the Lord wants us to go? At this point in the text, Jonah’s reasons for going the wrong direction are not defined. We might be tempted to want to get into his heart and mind to grasp the reason for his Tarshish-bound travel, but that is not important at this moment. At this moment in time, what is important to see is that Jonah is “running away” and “fleeing from the Lord.” How does one run away from the God of the universe? Anyone who knows God knows that He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Where can he go? What does he think he is doing? Does he really think that his will and desire will supersede God’s will and desire? I think he does! I think we do! I think we are tempted to think if we just run away from God (say that He doesn’t exist, or He isn’t paying attention) and do what we want to do, we will get our way. It didn’t work for Jonah! It won’t work for us!
Properly understood, man needs to run toward God, not away from Him. Something occurs in our hearts and heads that makes us move in the opposite direction from where we should be moving. We might not like, or agree, with what God wants us to do. We might be so fixated on our will getting done, that there is no room for God’s will. You see, it doesn’t just happen to everyday struggling Christians. It happens to prophets, pastors, and teachers, too. Something is wrong with Jonah’s heart, so he runs. He runs away so that the true nature of his heart will not be known to God. And we do the very same thing! But God knows our hearts. He knows the true nature of our being. And the good news is that He still loves us. Even in Jonah’s and our stubborn disobedience, God loves us and desires to have our hearts in sync with His. As we go through the book of Jonah, pay special attention to the multitude of ways God tries to get to the core issue with him. God wants to repair Jonah’s heart issue. He wants to do the same with you and me.