Jonah 1:1-3, Psalm 139:7-12
This is part of a 7-day series on Jonah in the Lent 2016 reading plan.
Our culture has a well-documented obsession with travel. Wanderlust is deep in the heart of nearly every person I know. We want to go where there is newness and life and adventure! And believe me, I totally get it.
When I was in college, three of my buddies and I piled into an old minivan and set out on a 5,000 mile road trip. It took us about 14 days to journey through 12 states. We camped in national parks, slept in parking lots, and traveled on a shoestring budget. It was a life-giving and life-changing adventure, and certainly a trip that I’ll always be glad I took. I think my friends would say the same thing.
Here’s the thing, though. At about day 10, we were tired, dirty, and disagreeing about where might be the best place to get a solid night’s sleep. You can run on adrenaline and Redbull for a while, but eventually you realize there is no substitute for a good night’s rest.
In our tiredness and fatigue, tempers flared and words were spoken. Don’t worry; we worked it out. But it was in that moment that I realized that pots and pans and warm clothes weren’t the only things I had packed. I certainly had intended to leave my problems behind and toss my cares to the wind, but ultimately they came with me whether I wanted them to or not.
Ernest Hemingway once famously stated: “Traveling won’t ever help you to get rid of your problems. You can’t run away from yourself.” Hemingway’s words are ironic enough when you consider the source. Or perhaps they’re just prophetic. Either way, I have certainly found his words to be true.
Jonah’s situation was complex. He wasn’t merely trying to get away from his issues and baggage. He was also trying to get away from God. Which, when you say it out loud, sounds ridiculous. But I know that I, and many others, have tried this as well.
Have you ever avoided prayer because you already sensed what God might be calling you to? Have you ever stopped going to church because you didn’t want to have to face a difficult reality in your spiritual life? Or how about this one: have you ever professed doubt in God, not because you had genuine burning questions, but because you didn’t want to do what He commanded?
Ouch. Writing those questions stings a little bit because I know they all reflect my various attempts to escape to Tarshish. Sometimes these decisions we make are subtle. Sometimes they are blatant.
Oftentimes when we run away from God, what we are really running from is our own inadequacies and brokenness. Those parts of our person are only made more visible in the presence of a perfectly holy God.
Psalm 139:7 reads: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” When we know that God is perfectly loving, the Psalmist’s declaration is not a threat. It is a promise! Even when we’re foolish and run headlong in the wrong direction, we can take heart knowing that God pursues us. He chases after us, not with a fist or hammer to punish us, but with a staff and rod to guide us and reel us in.
Traveling may temporarily help you escape your problems, but it certainly won’t enable you escape God. Here’s the very good news: you can’t outrun your problems or responsibilities, but you also can’t outrun God. This might sound scary, but is a very, very good thing.
Written By Andrew Stoddard