Disobedience Does Not Lead Us out of God's Presence
I find it interesting that we have no indication that God picked Jonah because he was the best prophet for the job. Rabbinical tradition tells us that Jonah was the widow's son brought back to life by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24). But even without such a miraculous start to life, many in the kingdom of God think that they have such a special place in God's heart that He would never ask them to do anything that would be distasteful to them. Jonah found out otherwise. God knew of Jonah's questionable attitude when He instructed him to go to Nineveh, and He held to His choice even after Jonah took off in the opposite direction. The real focus in the book is God's loving actions toward His creation. God's love and patience for the wicked Assyrians was no greater or less than His love for Israel or His patience for the disobedient, runaway prophet--or, for that matter, even you and me.
When Jonah heard God's instructions, his first response was to find the next boat out of town, and that boat just happened to be heading for Tarshish. It is doubtful that Jonah really had a desire to vacation in Tarshish; Tarshish simply happened to be the quickest destination that was not Nineveh. But Jonah discovered that even though he was running from his faithful God, God was still in pursuit of disobedient Jonah. Jonah discovered something we should all understand: Our disobedience to God does not necessarily lead us out of God's presence.
The Book of Jonah teaches us that we serve a sovereign God--a Lord who is supreme, all-powerful, self-governing, independent of all influences, capable of bringing about all that He desires, Creator of all we see and don't see. He is mysterious, unchanging, beyond our fullest knowledge, indescribable with words. We have no psychological way of understanding Him and no scientific way of grasping how He works. He cannot be measured, calculated, probed, judged, dissected, used in a blind taste test, manipulated, weighed, seen under a microscope, or viewed through a telescope. But, like a mysterious stranger, He leaves small clues of His existence all over the universe, if only those who have eyes to see and ears to hear will notice the signs around them.
It is the nature of this all-knowing, unknowable God to love His creation, all of His creation, no matter where they are physically or spiritually. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after their encounter with disobedience, but God came looking for them. King David discovered that no matter where he went, east or west, high or low, God was there (Psalm 139). Jonah learned that God will pursue His disobedient children no matter where they go, and Calvary teaches us that His desire to restore a relationship that was lost because of our sin knows no price. He desires that everyone on earth turn to Him and taste and see that He is good. In light of this, God sees people in Assyria and Africa and Iraq and Russia, and even Washington D.C., who are in need of His salvation. He sends one of His witnesses to that area so that those people may know the love and compassion of God. But sometimes His spokesperson gets it in his mind that he does not want to go, and then life becomes interesting.
James D. Thornber