From the Book of Jonah:
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out 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 his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Jonah 1:1-3 – October 16, 2012)
Jonah’s a fool! Trying to flee “from the presence of the Lord.” As if! This lesson today is an interesting contrast to Sunday’s Eucharistic Lectionary reading from Book of Job (Job 23:1-9,16-17) in which Job was bewildered and confused because he felt unable to find God: “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!” (Job 23:2) Jonah, on the other hand, would be perfectly happy never to find, or be found by, God.
If one is trying to avoid God, one might take C.S. Lewis’s advice:
Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal. (Christian Reflections, Eerdmans: 1967, pp. 167)
None of this will work, of course. As Job and Jonah both found out, God finds us. We don’t have to worry about where God is and we can’t avoid God; God knows where we are.
For a long time I avoided the call to ordained ministry: “No, I’m happy as an active lay man,” I would tell my bishop when he asked (yet again!) about entering the priesthood. But God, as the Book of Jonah makes perfectly clear, does not take “No” for an answer. I finally gave in. God pursues you! God wears you down! God won’t let you get away!
There are often times when I wonder why God was so insistent, when I think I’m really, really bad at this parish ministry stuff, when I am sure that God, the church, and I made a horrible mistake. But even at those times I know that I could not be doing anything else, that if I tried to leave the ministry and do something else God would chase after me again as God chased after Jonah.
I’m pretty sure that God chases after everyone. Everyone has a calling to some job, some task, some ministry in this life, and this Book of Jonah witnesses that God will pursue us until we do it. Jonah was a fool to think he could flee God! God simply won’t let go. I’ve always thought this book could be summarized in one short sentence: God is a nag!
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.