Quick context: a men’s class is studying the book of Jonah.
Our teacher has a really good way of throwing out questions that make us think, in combination with what he teaches.
On the second night, we covered the first three verses of Jonah, where it seems like relatively little happens, but those verses…
Here’s what they contain: God speaks to Jonah, saying to go to Nineveh. Jonah says no, and heads off to Tarshish.
One of the followup questions was “What would you be willing to do to duck His plan for your life?”
Consider Jonah. He’s seen as “the reluctant prophet,” which isn’t exactly true. He wasn’t reluctant at all; he wasn’t afraid at all, at least not as we think of those terms.
On the contrary, really: he had already stood up to the Assyrian Empire (see II Kings 14:25), who were the most barbaric of the eastern Empires. (The Persians, the Babylonians, and the Romans looked at Assyria and said, “See? We’re not that bad. We could have been like them.” Further, the Babylonians were seen as heroes in some ways because they wiped out Assyria.)
Anyway, Jonah wasn’t afraid of the Assyrians as much as one might imagine, because he’d been there and done that already. (Again, II Kings 14:25.)
And reluctance wasn’t a factor either, as much as racism or nationalism. The Book of Jonah says that he was angry that God might extend mercy to even the Ninevim; that’s not the same as being unwilling to serve Him. (Again, Jonah spoke for Israel already.)
Yet he ran from “the presence of the Lord,” when called to go to Nineveh. Not only did he run from doing God’s will, but he literally fled the presence of God as he saw it – even though he would have known God was everywhere.
Nineveh was northeast of Jonah’s home; he ran for a point more than two thousand miles west, across the sea – a great unknown at the time.
Sure, the frying pan wasn’t all that great, but he went from the frying pan into a fire that was much worse – just as long as it wasn’t the frying pan.
So Jonah was willing to do quite a lot to avoid God’s plan, and God mercifully intervened to return Jonah, in such a way that we can benefit from the story of what happened.
I would pray that God would have such mercy on me.
For myself, I can say that I’m no better than Jonah. I might think I’m trying to obey His will, but I know that I’ve been willing and able to do quite a bit to avoid the uncomfortable, including examining myself and my motives enough to know how flawed I am.
I can honestly say that it’s only through the mercy of God that I can see myself even partially for who I really am, a flawed human being who desires greatly to do that which fulfills the will of God even while I yearn for God to not ask too much of me.
I don’t know what anyone else is willing to do, but I ask myself constantly why I’m willing to pour so much effort into doing what I think is most beneficial for me, and why I don’t surrender to His will.
It’s only through His mercy and sacrifice that I’m not found completely wanting.
(Originally published January 18, 2012.)