God commissioned Jonah the task of preaching repentance “or else” destruction to the inhabitants of Nineveh, capital of Assyria (Jonah 1:1). Rather than obey the command of the Lord, Jonah fled toward the city of Tarshish, in an attempt to shake his assignment, and God: “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). Evading God translates to running from our call to share the Good News of God's love. But running from our divine duties doesn’t stop God, nor His will.
Running from God is never a good idea because we are always in His sight. Jonah, a Hebrew prophet, would have known that you cannot outrun an omnipresent God. “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?" declares the LORD "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the LORD. "Am I a God who is near," declares the LORD, "And not a God far off?” (Jeremiah 23:23-24). God knew where Jonah was and stopped him from going to Tarshish. God is never not near us. He knows exactly where we are at all times. It is futile for us to try to escape God undetected.
Running away prolongs the inevitable—facing our calling and our responsibilities. Jonah was called to do God’s will, and assigned the job of preaching to a Hebrew nemesis. The Assyrian Ninevite warriors were known for their brutality and bloodshed (Nahum 3:1). They were influencers of idolatry, luring other nations with their sorceries and prostitution. It is understandable that for many possible reasons—fear, self-righteousness, a desire for justice—Jonah wanted to avoid delivering a sermon to the Ninevites.
Those of us who belong to Jesus Christ are called to be and do something (Romans 1:5-7). Our assignments and roles differ slightly, but when we received Jesus into our lives, we all received the call to be salt and light to the world so that we will glorify God (Matthew 5:13-16). We may not all be called to the office of ministry or sent on assignment across our borders, but we are all called to minister by serving others. I Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Our calling is to affect those in the world around us. Our tasks of sharing what Jesus has done in our lives vary, and can be scary in some of our circles. But, be encouraged—if Jesus has changed your life, then telling your story may be the catalyst that sparks the change in another individual’s life, transforming them from warlike to Christlike. No matter the risk, no matter our personal opinion of what others deserve, no matter the fear factor, we cannot successfully run from our calling to serve up the Good News of God’s love and grace.
When God calls a person to do a job, He equips them for the job. He won’t let us make excuses or give Him reasons why we can’t. There is no opting out of God’s call on our lives to do His will. Hebrews 13:21 says, “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with every good thing to do His will. And may He accomplish in us what is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." The same God of peace gave Jonah the words to speak to his bloodthirsty enemy. He told Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jonah 3:2). It wasn’t Jonah’s words (and he most likely had some) that God wanted him to bestow on Nineveh. God does not want us to make fools of ourselves. We represent Him and He will give us all the tools—words, wisdom, knowledge, skills—we need for the tasks ahead of us, not allowing for excuses.
Running from God means running from Love. I John 4:8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Jonah wasn’t simply running from a preaching assignment. He was running from the love of God. The outcome of Jonah’s assignment was not what he wanted. The Ninevites were his country’s enemy. He was ticked off that God had shown clemency over Nineveh’s obedience and repentance. He was hoping for vengeance, not mercy. Annihilation, not compassion. Jonah said, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2). It would have been a win for Israel if Nineveh had been destroyed by the Hebrew God. Loving Nineveh was the last thing Jonah wanted to do because it was the last thing He wanted God to do.
Sometimes it is easier and far more interesting to hate those who we think don’t deserve God’s love, who are mean, nasty and unlovable. If we are honest, we don’t want people to repent. Why? Because they’ve hurt us or those we love, and we want justice. Because we like our anger—it feels better than pain. Because we want blood. Because we want to win! But God is not about us getting our pound of flesh. God’s justice is not the same as our justice. We forget that we don’t get what we deserve when God forgives us of our sin. We forget that we have been pardoned and shown mercy time and time again. We forget that it’s God’s love that has captured and remolded our hearts. Why wouldn’t we run to our enemies with the same hope—for them to be changed into the likeness and image of Jesus (Romans 8:29)?
God’s love always wins. When we allow the love of God to overtake us—filling, healing and completing us—it will spill out onto others. We will want the best for friends, enemies, family, strangers, foreigners and all others. We will celebrate their salvation, and life and heart change. We will love them no matter the pain they’ve inflicted, and no matter their skin color, socioeconomic status or ethnicity.
We won’t always like the jobs God gives us to do. But we need to know that being a reborn child of God is an invitation to partner with Him. It’s not simply doing His bidding. God desires that we extend the unconditional love to others that has been extended to us. He does not need us to accomplish His will. He wants us to be a part of His will being accomplished.
God’s presence, calling, love and sovereignty are inescapable. Jonah and others suffered because of his resistance and rebellion to God. But not all was lost. Jonah rediscovered God’s grace and recommitted himself to the Lord’s plan. And though Jonah wished for a different outcome on Nineveh, God’s word was preached and His will done—grace and love extended to those beyond the boundaries of Israel.
Taking the route of resistance will always be a much longer and tumultuous trip. We can make plans that take us away from God’s destination but God has a master plan. He loves us, and He will reroute us for His will to be done both in our own lives and in the lives of others.
Written by: Sonya Young