Pastor's Column

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The tale of Jonah is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible; with numerous adaptations and allusions, from Veggie Tales to Pinocchio to George Orwell to John Milton's "Paradise Lost."

This well-known tale tells us that Jonah was called by God to do ministry in Nineveh (modern-day Iraq) but instead Jonah heads for Tarshish (modern-day Spain). On his way to Tarshish, a great storm envelopes the ship on which Jonah is traveling and Jonah is thrown overboard as a "sacrifice" by the pagan crew to appease the apparently angry "gods." Mercifully, God sends a great fish to swallow Jonah and bring him to dry land, Jonah heads for Nineveh, and everyone lives happily ever after, at least that's how we often think the story goes.

Here's the thing about Jonah that can often get lost in our familiarity with this story: the story of Jonah is not primarily about a fish (or a whale?) swallowing Jonah; it's not about how God does the miraculous; it's about God's unbelievable grace for a man who wants nothing to do with God, and indeed runs to the seeming ends of the earth to get away from him.

God called Jonah to head east, Jonah heads west. God sends a storm to catch Jonah's attention, Jonah sleeps through it. Pagan sailors begin begging their gods for mercy; Jonah remains silent. Jonah's stubborn refusal to listen to God is so great that he would rather be thrown into the chaotic waters and die rather than pray to God. Jonah is far from a role model of Christian faithfulness!

If there was anyone who was undeserving of God's grace and mercy, it was Jonah. And yet God spared him anyway. He suffered, yes. There's no way of trying to make the belly of a fish sound like a five-star hotel. But even as he suffered as a result of his sin, God spared him from the disastrous consequences of his running from God.

Are you running from God? Have you turned your back on him? Did God call you to head to Nineveh and you went the opposite direction to Tarshish in order to get away from him? Has God sent storms into your life in order to get your attention, and you continue to ignore him? The story of Jonah is good news for us: God is gracious. It's not too late to turn around. It's not too late to stop running.

If you are running from God, stop running. You'll never outrun him. You'll never be able to hide from him. Some of you maybe started running because you didn't want to obey him, but now you are running because its the only thing you know and you find yourself to ashamed to return. Stop running. Turn around and come home.