Sometimes things in life can get so frustrating that we wish we could just run away. Some, because of difficulties in our spiritual lives, even to the point that we would want to run away from God. But is this a realistic course of action? Can we really run away from God?
Jonah Tried to Run Away from God
Jonah was one of those guys who did not like pressure. He was content to live his life, blissfully working at his job, maybe hanging out with the guys after work, having a few cups of wine and a laugh or two. He was a laid-back, low-stress, just cruising-along kind of guy. And then God came calling.
Now, if God had told Jonah to maybe lay off the wine, or work harder, he might have been willing to do what God asked. But that was not what God wanted. No, he wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the people there that He was not pleased with them, and He wanted them to repent (Jonah 1:1-2).
Jonah was understandably taken aback. The people of Nineveh were not Jews. They were gentiles and pagans at that! Jonah, being a righteous man, was appalled. Why should he go to those pagans, who would likely kill him? I mean, that would be insane! Imagine if God said to you, I want you to go to the worst gang members in your state and tell them to repent.
This gang is guilty of the murders of the innocent, drug trafficking, and all manner of other serious crimes. And God says to you, “I want you to go to them and tell them to repent.” Now you have a grasp on what Jonah was thinking. This is madness! Go to a people who hate everything I stand for and tell them they had better change their attitudes or God was going to be angry?
After they stop laughing at me, they just might be kind enough to give me a quick death. So, Jonah said no thanks. He was not up for the possibility of torture and death, and he skipped town, thinking he could hide from God. He bought himself a ticket on a ship heading to Tarshish from Joppa and washed his hands of the whole affair.
Now Tarshish was in the opposite direction of Nineveh, so Jonah undoubtedly felt confident that he had put some good distance between himself and God’s plan (Jonah 1:3). Have you ever felt that God was calling on you to do something that you really did not want to do?
Maybe it was something as simple as apologizing to someone. Or perhaps it was asking you to forgive your biggest enemy. I knew a woman who found out that her husband and her best friend had an affair for over a year. She caught them in the act and was understandably hurt, angry, and unwilling to speak to either of them.
She divorced her husband and refused to ever speak to her now-former friend ever again. One day, several years later, she confessed that she felt like God was really impressing upon her the need to forgive both of them. But she was not willing to do so. The pain was still very real to her, and the betrayal just seemed insurmountable.
What about you? Have you ever felt God calling you to do something you just flat out do not want to do? Did you resist? Did you try to run from God?
Nowhere to Run from God
The truth of the matter is, there is nowhere to run. Scripture is very clear on that point. We are always before His sight, no matter where we are or what we do (Job 34:21; Proverbs 15:3; Hebrews 4:13). Jonah found that out the hard way.
While he was making his escape to Tarshish, a severe storm hit the seas. The wind howled and the waves tossed the ship to-and-fro, so bad that it seemed certain that the ship would sink, and everyone would die. It was so bad the crew started to toss cargo off the ship, hoping that if they lightened the load, it would keep them afloat (Jonah 1:4-5).
Keep in mind, these were not amateur sailors here who went out on the weekends, did a little fishing, and then back to the dock for dinner. We are talking about experienced, sea-hardened sailors who had seen their share of storms and difficulties at sea.
If they are frightened enough that they started praying and tossing stuff off the ship, things could not have looked very good. The captain even asked Jonah to pray, hoping Jonah’s God would save them all. They had no idea at this point that he was a Jew (Jonah 1:6).
When that did not work, they started casting lots to find out which of them had angered the gods and brought all this trouble on them. For Jonah, the jig was up. The lot fell on him. The sailors were angry now. They went to him and demanded answers (Jonah 1:8).
So, Jonah confessed everything. “Sorry guys. I’m a Jew and I was running away from the God who created all of this. He’s angry with me for not doing what He asked me to do.” The storm was becoming worse by the minute, and now the sailors were both angry and afraid.
How would they ever manage to get this God to calm the sea with this blasphemer on board? (Jonah 1:9-11). Jonah finally gave up and said, “It is my fault, so just throw me into the sea and this will all stop” (Jonah 1:12).
The sailors instead tried to row for shore, but the storm grew worse and worse, thwarting their efforts. Finally, they gave up and tossed Jonah off the boat (Jonah 1:13-17). We all know the rest of the story. Jonah is swallowed by a whale and lives in its stomach for three days.
After repenting of his bad attitude, he is vomited onto the beach near Nineveh, and with his hair and skin bleached white from stomach acid, smelling like a bucket of chum, he finally went to the people and said, “Repent.”
What Does This Mean?
Looking like that, along with his message, he must have made quite an impression, since we are told the people repented. Like Jonah, we often try to run from God, avoiding His will for us. And just like Jonah, it never works.
God cannot be mocked in such a way (Galatians 6:7). When He commands something of us, it is always for our benefit (Jeremiah 29:11). Yes, it might be difficult to do because of some prejudice, emotional hang-up, or ego trip we are experiencing, but if we are really His disciples, we are duty-bound to do what He commands.
This means we have to deny ourselves the self-pity, the anger, the grudges, and the comforts we are accustomed to (Luke 9:23). There is no running away for those who sincerely love the Lord.
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.