If you grew up going to church, chances are that you are familiar with the story of Jonah being eaten by a big fish after trying to run away from God. As a kid, the story seemed straight forward: don't run away from God and everything will be fine. Now, studying it and digging deeper into the story I'm seeing how much more complicated it is and how many different elements are at play.
Side note: am I the only one who wishes that life could be as simple and straight forward as it seemed as a kid? Everything is so much more complex as an adult. Most things are not black and white like they seemed as a child, there are more than two dimensions to every action and decision someone makes.
In Chapter 1, Jonah is called by God to go to the city of Nineveh to preach against the wickedness of the people there. At this point, we don't know why, but Jonah decides to run away from God and go in the opposite direction to Tarshish instead of going where he was called.
While on the boat to Tarshish, God created a violent storm which sent the sailors into a panic. They were all calling on their gods and throwing cargo over the side, trying to lighten the load of the boat. Eventually, they figured out that Jonah was reason for the storm and asked, "What should we do…" (Jonah 1:11). Jonah replied by telling them to throw him off the ship.
At first glance, this may seem like a heroic thing to do, to sacrifice one's life for the others on the boat but upon closer inspection there is another possibility. That this act of getting thrown overboard was another act of selfishness on Jonah's behalf. Instead of facing the consequences of his actions, he tries to, yet again, run from God and avoid the repercussions of his running in the first place.
Do you ever know what God wants you to do but ignored it, thinking that your way would be easier? I have. Here is one of my personal "running away from God" stories. I was in a relationship and got this feeling that it wasn't what God had planned for me. At the time, there were no obvious red flags or reasons to end the relationship (that I could see). Because I am someone who likes to have concrete reasons for what I do and am someone who doesn't like conflict, I pushed away rather than confronted and explored what I felt God was calling me to do.
Then it came up again. And again. It kept coming up because running from God doesn't work. He kept chasing me, warning me that he had more for me if I would only let him in instead of pushing him away. But my pride and stubbornness got in the way and, like Jonah, I ran from God. It may not have been in such a tangible way as Jonah, but my heart and mind were running away, far away. Shutting out the only one whom I can trust to have my best interest in mind.
After a long struggle, lots of prayer, and still without clear answers as to why, I followed where I believed God to be leading me. In faith, I took the next step, ended the relationship and held on to the hope that God was holding me. I was terrified and it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.
Clarity came months later, and I finally got some answers that I was searching for. Having some distance from the relationship, I was able to see more clearly the ways in which it was not healthy or God-honoring. The answers I received were devastating, creating more questions rather than giving me all of the answers. While it gave me peace that I had made the right decision, it was anything but easy.
Like I said earlier, life is more complicated than "don't run away from God and life will be fine." Life is not always a straight path. It is up and down, sideways, and inside-out. God's plan and what we think God's plan should be are two completely different things. Jonah knew that. He knew that God's plan was different than what he thought it should be, so instead of facing that he ran. Ultimately, God's will prevailed but Jonah could have saved himself a lot of time, energy, and heartbreak if he had listened the first time. We don't know what happens to Jonah after story, but I can imagine that he would think twice about running from God again. The story of Jonah is also a great example of how there is grace in our running or our mistakes. Our paths might not be straight and we may choose the long way around, but we aren't big enough to ruin God's plan.
"The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent." 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT).