There are a lot of books and workshops and such out there about finding God’s will for your life, hearing God’s voice, discerning God’s direction, and such. His will and direction are pictured as being almost mystic, ethereal, and very easy to miss. Well, here we have a guy who heard the voice of God, and knew the will of God very clearly. His problem was not a matter of revelation!
“The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” 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 1:1-3, NIV.
So, far from seeking God’s will, far from discerning God’s direction, he ran! As Mr. Tchividjian points out, he goes to great lengths and trouble and expense to avoid doing what God had wanted. He journeys down to the seaboard, searches out a ship, pays the passage, and actually launches out to sea towards a place far away from his native land! What could possibly have motivated him to do these things? What a lout! Right?
Not so fast. I recently listened to an excellent podcast by a guy named Dan Carlin on Ninevah. They were the Nazi Germany of their day. They were the extreme mortal enemies of Israel and Judah, brutal, godless, thirsty for power and blood and conquest. It is the same as if God asked you to go preach to the Taliban, if the Taliban were actually organized and powerful, and far more evil. You cannot imagine the tales of sadistic horror that surround the Ninevites. Jonah knew all about their violent and sadistic wickedness, and he did not want to give them the opportunity to repent! These are people that Jonah hated, and with good reason. This directive of God was an extreme and unusual thing. It is understandable that Jonah did not want to do this. He was OK with preaching to his own people, but he would forsake his own beloved people and land to avoid this. It actually makes sense.
On reflection, many of God’s commands are offensive. We are asked to love our enemies! Pray for those who persecute us! Turn the other cheek! Give to those who rob us! Take up our cross! Who is going to really do all of this, seriously? The truth is, we can’t stand grace and mercy, it is always an absolute scandal. We lust for justice, for retribution, for revenge. If someone strikes us or robs us or hurts someone we love, we want them to pay for it! If my son is getting beat up at school by a bully, I admit that I am gratified when he stands up for himself and fights back. Even when I myself sin, I want to suffer for it, to do something to myself to pay for what I’ve done. Am I not Jonah? Do I not run? Do I give the gracious directives of God the honor and obedience they deserve? Don’t I have good reasons to choose my ways and forsake God’s crazy ways? In many ways, just as God’s directive here, I view my own preferences as superior, and I view God as being loony and just plain wrong. We are fools if we think we would do better than Jonah in this situation. We know God’s will, and we run.
As I have said many times, the problem with discerning God’s will is not a problem of revelation, but of will. Jesus puts it perfectly:
“”If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself.” John 7:17, NASB.
Now here is the good part. After the tempest at sea, after Jonah is thrown overboard, after he spends 3 days and nights in the belly of the fish, after he is spit back up on the land, God speaks to him again. Jonah has run, he has been given up for dead, he has been spectacularly miraculously saved. During all of this, God acts, but He does not speak. Now He speaks:
“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh.” Jonah 3:1-3, NIV.
Does this sound familiar? There is no rebuke, no ‘I told you so,’ in fact there is no mention or interpretation of these incredible events at all! God returns Jonah to square one and tells him the same exact thing as when it all started.
I would imagine that if Jonah were to lead a seminar on finding God’s will, it would be a very different message than the one we are used to hearing! I think he would say, “I REALLY wanted to miss God’s will. I paid money to miss God’s will. I forsook my homeland, my friends and family, to miss God’s will. I got on a boat and set sail for a far foreign land to miss God’s will. I hated and loathed God’s will in my heart. I truly believed that God was wrong, unjust and evil. Yet, He made sure I did not miss it, he redirected me with force and persevered to make me an instrument of His grace. I hated His mercy, I despised His patience, I detested His concern for these evil-doers. He rescued me from my vengeance, my hatred, my mercilessness. His grace sent a tempest to thwart my determined journey away from Him, so I could proclaim His grace to these people I despised.”
He is merciful, gracious and kind to us, so that we might bear the message of grace to others. They may speak against us, ridicule us, rob us, hit us, but we are no better. We would wish the exact same thing for them, if not for this incredibly strong grace. As children of God, He is committed to making sure we do not miss His will, so that we may be vessels of grace to the graceless. We may foolishly run, but through one means or another, He will bring us back to the mission of grace.