Magazine article U.S. Catholic

You Can Run but You Can't Hide

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

You Can Run but You Can't Hide

Article excerpt

Probably no one in the Bible tried harder to run away from God than the prophet Jonah. When he is told by God to go to Nineveh, he not only doesn't go, he heads in the opposite direction. He's afraid that God will be too compassionate and forgiving of the city's inhabitants. Jonah runs away from God to go to Tarshish, a place that for the Hebrews represented the far end of the world. Jonah tries to go as far as he can to escape his duty.

Reluctance, fear, and the desire to run away are the frequent human reactions in Hebrew scripture to the entrance of God into one's life, perhaps illustrating that the entrance of God into one's life is no laughing matter.

Moses offers a variety of reasons why he should not be the one to lead God's people, "Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?... What if they will not believe me or listen to my words and say to me, 'Yahweh has not appeared to you'? ... But, Lord, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence, either before or since You have spoken to your servant. I am a slow speaker and am not able to speak well" (Exod. 3-4). After all of his objections have been answered, Moses pleads with God to "send anyone You will" (Exod. 4:14).

This same kind of resistance is found in the opening words of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: "The word of Yahweh was addressed to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I have appointed you as a prophet to the nations.'

"I said, 'Ah, Lord Yahweh, look. I do not know how to speak; I am a child.' But Yahweh replied, 'Do not say, "I am a child." Go now to those to whom I send you and say whatever I shall command you. Do not be afraid of them for I am with you to protect you--it is Yahweh who speaks'" (Jer. 1:4-8).

The very words do not be afraid indicate that the one being spoken to is afraid and wants to run the other way. There's quite a difference between the fear and reluctance expressed by Moses and Jeremiah, on the one hand, and the behavior of Jonah on the other. Moses and Jeremiah express fear and hesitation but then proceed to do what God has commanded them.

Jonah's reaction is quite different. When it becomes clear to Jonah what God wants of Jonah, where God wants Jonah to go, and what God wants Jonah to do, he doesn't argue or plead his case. He just takes off. Jonah "found a ship bound for Tarshish; he paid his fare and went aboard, to go with them to Tarshish, to get away from Yahweh" (Jon. 1:4).

Jonah, however, finds out that running away from God can be exhausting, frustrating, and even risky. The ship runs into a violent storm and those on board cast lots to find out who was responsible for this misfortune. "So they cast lots and the lot fell to Jonah" (Jon. 1:8). The sailors judge Jonah to be responsible for their plight. "The sailors were seized with terror at this and said, 'What have you done?' They knew that he was trying to escape from Yahweh, because he had told them so" (Jon. 1:10).

Having decided that Jonah is the cause of their troubles, the sailors conclude there's only one course of action to take: get rid of Jonah. Nothing personal in this, Jonah, but we can't afford to have you around here anymore, they tell him. "And taking hold of Jonah, they threw him into the sea" (Jon. 1:15). Jonah survived his near-death experience as "Yahweh had arranged that a great fish should be there to swallow Jonah, and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights" (Jon. 2:1).

In Man for Himself (Henry Holt & Co., 1990), psychiatrist Erich Fromm comments upon Jonah and the whale: "The element of care and responsibility in productive love has been described in the Book of Jonah.... Jonah runs away from his mission because he is afraid that the people of Nineveh will repent and that God will forgive them. He is a man with a strong sense of law and order but without love. …

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