“But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD …” (Jonah 1:3)
Jonah knew that God was what he was not. “… For I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.” (Jonah 4:2) Like Peter, we can feel so unworthy before Him, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8) Like Isaiah, we are wrecked. “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone …” (Isaiah 6:5)
There are times when we must be ashamed in the presence of such a gracious God. Our petty vindictiveness is so unbecoming in the light of God’s great kindness. Truly, there is only One who is good. In and of ourselves, we are only hopeless, helpless darkness. We flee the presence of a God we cannot be like, whose glory causes us to shrink away in shame. But God chases us down. He finds us on the high seas in the deepest bowels of a boat headed away from Him. He calls for a great fish to swallow us and return us to our mission. He confronts our dissimilarity to Him and invites us to share His very heart.
Who is this God who above all wants us to be as He is? God is love; and love is kind. (1 Cor. 13:4) The eternal ages to come will show how great God’s kindness has been to those deserving of death. (Eph. 2:7) We are all Ninevites, who deserve His wrath. We are all also like Jonah – ungracious, unmerciful, and unkind – naturally unlike the only good God. In condemning others, we condemn ourselves.
If we cannot be merciful to the worst sinner, we cut off our own mercy; because in the day of our reckoning, when we stand before an all-good God, we will be found unfit for His presence. A God who is Light, and in whom is no darkness at all, will only have those like Him inhabit eternity with Him.
We flee God because we flee godliness. Behold Him, and don’t run away. Run to Him, to be changed by His grace into His likeness.