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ILLUSTRATION Once an atheist asked a Christian lady if she believed the Bible was true. “Yes,” said the lady. “Then.” Said the atheist, “tell me how a whale swallowed Jonah, as a whale’s stomach is no bigger than a man’s head.” “I don’t know,” said the lady: “but when I get to Heaven I will ask him.” “What if Jonah is not there,” said the atheist. “Then you can ask him,” said the lady.
(Read Jonah 1:1-17)
What is the Book of Jonah about? Well, it’s not simply about a great fish (mentioned only four times), or a great city (named nine times), or even a disobedient prophet (mentioned eighteen times.) It’s about God! God is mentioned thirty-eight times in these four short chapters, and if you eliminated Him from the book, the story wouldn’t make sense.
The Book of Jonah is about the will of God and how we respond to it. It’s also about the love of God and how we share it with others. This passage says that God called Jonah to preach against Nineveh but Jonah ran away from the Lord. Why do people run away from God? What happened when we ran away from God?
Can we really run away from God?
SEE Psalm 139:7-12 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
We can be in an environment or culture where God is not acknowledged but God is never absent.
In the case of Jonah, he was going to a pagan place Tarshish far from the Promised Land where a Jewish community of faith worshiped and cherished the Scripture and practiced the Torah or Law. Jonah was going to Tarshish where the name of Yahweh was not spoken and where other gods or no gods were the objects of commitment and where life was lived as if there were no Lord of heaven and earth.
In the same way, we can flee to our own Tarshish. We can immerse ourselves in our irreligious society or in a godless social circle or in our own affairs and interests that the name of God is never spoken except in profanity and the works of God are never recalled.
We can absent ourselves from all worship, all faith communities, all religious learning, and all attempts to live by faith’s ethic and become totally secular – banishing God from our thought, our deeds, our devotion, our total view of the world.
We can forget about God and live in “Tarshish” and perhaps Tarshish is a good name for our present culture. But God of course, is not absent from such a culture. At times we ran away from the Lord by simply ignoring the issues he confronted us to, or by being absent minded before the presence of God, or by being indifferent to the things he wanted us to do. We run away by shutting the door of our minds and ears from anything that pertains to God. But God is never absent.
SEE Psalm 90:2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world; from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
And if ever we are able to ignore God today, later on we would still
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