But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. — Jonah 1:3
I have one of the most ridiculous stories to share from my childhood. I was about five or six years old, and I was walking by my friend Dawn’s house when I saw her come out the front door and throw a China dish down onto the driveway where it shattered in a thousand pieces. She asked me if I wanted to join her, and since breaking dishes still seems fun even today, I followed her into the dining room where we proceeded to clean out all her family’s fine China. We’d gotten about five minutes into our violence against kitchenware campaign when I heard a motherly voice in the form of Dawn’s mother from the top of the stairs shouting “DAWN, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE??!!” Being the not-very-intelligent youth that I was, I took that as my cue to mosey on down the street to see how things were going at the Martin household. As I reached the house, I made a beeline for my dad’s office and promptly hid myself under his work desk. Of course, it didn’t take long for my dad to find me and inform me that breaking another family’s dinnerware was not exactly the smartest decision I was going to have made that day.
Two ironies. The first was that I knew I had done something wrong. The second is that when I got home I immediately hid in the one place that my dad spent a rather large amount of time at–his office desk! But in my rationally irrational kid mind, this was going to be my safe haven. Of course, I can laugh at the absurdity of it all now, but it’s no less absurd than what Jonah did when he boarded an ocean liner going the opposite direction that God had told him to go.
Jonah had a hard task ahead. God had told him to preach judgement against a nation that Jonah would have liked to have been judged. But Jonah the prophet was well acquainted with the grace and mercy of God and assumed that if they repented after hearing his message, God would spare them. The problem was that Jonah didn’t want them spared! So he tried to flee from the presence of God, which is like saying you’re going to flee from the presence of air but even less possible than that.
Could this describe you? Maybe anger or shame has you running in wild directions and various places that make you feel like you’re successfully escaping God’s presence? The thing about God’s people, and one of the things that makes them God’s people, is that they can’t pull themselves away from the presence of God. In the throes of our deadliest sins, God is there. Through the consequences of every decision, God is there. Everywhere we go is everywhere God is. In our shame we attempt to flee from God’s presence, but even when we feel the dimmest light of it, it’s still there in glimmering sharpness, waiting to expose our shallow desires to escape, while embracing our stubborn refusal to enter back in. God is inescapable. Praise God! The worst thing in the world for us would be to exist in the absence of God’s presence. So horrible is that reality that this is the final reality for all those who die in unrepentant sin.
Are you in a fleeing place right now? Because, although it may feel the opposite for a moment, a fleeing place is not a freeing place. Let God’s presence not push you away but pull you back in, because the mercy He had for His stubborn prophet Jonah is the mercy you have waiting for you if you’d just stop running in the wrong direction.
Have you been running from God this year? Does knowing how close He has stayed with you in your running caused comfort or shame? Take some time to pray for God’s mercy, and then to thank Him for it.