Engulfed by the raging storm, tossed by the unfriendly embrace of the waves, then swallowed by the giant mammal of the ocean; a fate chosen for Jonah when he tried to flee to Tarshish from the presence of God. A story that seems like a fairytale with fictional characters, since Jonah’s action of running from God along with events such as express whale Uber and instant tree growth, seems inconceivable.
As a prophet of God, Jonah got some things right. He had a relationship with Almighty God, who spoke directly to him. He also was willing to repent when he disobeyed God and he eventually saw the error of his reasoning. On the contrary, Jonah had a bad case of a disease that has become natural to several people all over the world, resulting in a present day endemic.
Unlike a pandemic, which is a widespread outbreak of a disease, an endemic refers to the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). The symptoms of the Jonah endemic include veering from God’s presence, interposing judgment and cold-heartedness.
Fleeing God’s presence
One might question Jonah’s logic or mental state at the time he chose to hide from God, being mindful of the fact that God is omnipresent (everywhere). No rational person would try to replicate Jonah’s actions. Is that really true though? Is Jonah the only person guilty of openly displaying such irrational behavior? “Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of God.” (Jonah chapter 1, verse 3). His destination, Tarshish, was one of the major trading centers at the time; a place blooming with numerous activities where greedy merchants and tradesmen could accumulate wealth.
Today, the Jonah endemic is very much present in our society. Often, we oppose the will of our Holy Father by doing what we believe is right from our perspective. How different are we from Jonah when we constantly seek self-satisfaction? How different are we, when our priorities are centered on reaping the benefits available at prosperous, eye-catching Tarshish; while running from the instructions of our heavenly Father clearly stated in His word, the Bible? We run from the presence of God when we create an atmosphere that is unhealthy for God to dwell in, when we dance to the music of Tarshish, when we resemble its merchants and get distracted by its enjoyable life screensaver.
“Court adjourned, guilty as charged”...without giving the accused the opportunity to appeal with the readily available advocate, Jesus Christ. It is always easier to see another person’s faults especially when they are engaged in the “big” sins that we scoff at. This is a church disease that has affected several ministries in their effort to share the gospel with different groups in society.
Had it not been for the grace of God, we would all receive the punishment we deserve. Why then should others be deprived of the same opportunity? Instead of warning Nineveh of its fate without repentance, we aim for the city of abundance and the pleasantries of self-fulfillment. We see some persons as irredeemable and therefore choose the easier path of avoiding them instead of witnessing to them about the love of Christ which has the power to redeem.
Blessed are the merciful
Like the seasonal influenza that continues to plague society, a lack of empathy has woven its way into the thread of humanity. Jonah was grateful for the gourd that the Lord allowed to bring shade and rest from the scorching sun. How then could God allow the tree to be destroyed when it was so vital to his well-being? This compounded Jonah’s anger as he waited and did not see the city destroyed for its evil deeds.
Isn’t it amazing how patient God can be with us, that even when we pout and throw tantrums, he is gentle enough to show us the error of our way? God’s illustration questioned Jonah’s affection for a plant while he had no mercy for the thousands of lives including the innocent children and numerous animals that would perish if the city was destroyed.
Psalm 15 speaks of the upright and qualities of the person who can dwell in God’s presence. If we do not maintain a lifestyle of honesty, faithfulness and compassion, God’s presence will not stay with us. The result - Jonah’s fate of a life filled with despair, horror, regrets and near death experiences. Jonah wanted to take God’s position as judge but was not willing to portray God’s mercy.
In order for us to have a resistance against the Jonah endemic, we need a potent dose of love. When we experience the love of God, it corrects the natural response to veering from God’s presence, interposing judgment and cold-heartedness. In John chapter 14, verse 23, Jesus replied, “If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” This is the only remedy, Christ in us the hope of glory.
Kerry-Ann is a wife, mother, and retired High School Mathematics teacher who loves to write Christian meditations and lead the youth in Bible study. She is a passionate worship leader and a youth ministry coordinator at her church. Currently, she is a member of the Christian Game Development Conference pursuing her vision of creating industry standard Christian entertainment.