Maybe our trouble is not that we have not had convincing, authoritative personal experiences with God, but maybe our trouble is that we are too certain of who we think God is...or who He is supposed to be.
Jonah knew God. He heard God's voice. He knew, or at least, he was very convinced, that it was God's voice. He knew the Word that the Lord had given him. And He knew that the Word that God had given him was true. Jonah knew without a doubt that if he went and preached to Nineveh, God was going to show up and do what God had promised to do.
See, Jonah took the encounter he had with God and he held it up against everything he knew and believed about God, and he found it to be convincing. He knew it was authoritative. It lined up perfectly with God's character, so far as Jonah knew it.
What Jonah could not reconcile, however, was God's Word with God's narrative.
Nineveh was a foreign peoples. They were not God's chosen people. They were not Israelites. They were not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. These were the kind of peoples that Israel was supposed to force out, that God was supposed to defeat. He wasn't supposed to redeem them. He wasn't supposed to send a word of repentance to them. They were not His people, so Jonah believed they should not have been his problem.
And this is another place where we get hung up, too.
Maybe we know God. Maybe we are certain of God's character. Maybe we take a Word that is put on our hearts and we evaluate it and we know that it is from God. Maybe it is so full of love and grace and mercy that we know that it couldn't be anything but Him. Maybe we know exactly what it is that God is calling us to do.
But maybe what we don't get is how He is writing it into His story. Maybe what we don't understand is how it fits into the bigger picture. This is especially true when we think we've figured out what God is doing in our lives and in our world. Some of us have grand ideas and we've got our feet on a certain path and we are pretty sure we know exactly where that path is leading and what rocks we're going to have to climb over along the way.
Then, we get a word that this path detours through Nineveh, and we can't comprehend it. We don't understand how that is possible, let alone how that is good. It sounds like the God we know, but the setting is all wrong. The scene is wrong. The story was moving along quite nicely, but this? This seems like a scene from another book altogether. And we're not interested in detours.
So we turn toward Tarshish.
Now, on the surface, this seems like the very kind of detour we were trying to avoid, but the thing about Tarshish is that we take our God with us. We take His story with us. We know exactly who He is when we carry Him on our shoulders into places we determine for ourselves to go. There are no surprises about God in Tarshish (so we think), whereas Nineveh....Nineveh could throw a wrench in this whole thing.
And, well, we'd rather have our small version of God that we comprehend than to have a bigger view of Him that gets a little messy.
Nineveh, God? Really? Nineveh? God's story doesn't run through Nineveh.
Which is precisely how it comes to run through Tarshish.