So what's the point? The point is that even though it very often seems that we would jump at the opportunity to have Jonah's calling - to go into the world and tell them how wrong they are - the truth is that Jonah's story betrays our own insecurities. We are more like the prophet than we care to admit.
And the reason we don't care to admit it is because it reveals a fundamental flaw in our contemporary theology. Namely, we are not as close to God as we would like to pretend. Most of us have never authentically encountered God; we are living our lives by proxy through those that we hope have (and by the way, many of them are lying to us because they haven't authoritatively encountered God, either). And even in cases where we are absolutely convinced of the nature and character of God, we still struggle with His story; it is so often not the story that we would be writing (or sometimes, that we think He would be writing).
What, then, is the answer to our plight? It is, quite simply, a big fish.
We all need the kind of experience that Jonah had on his way to Tarshish. We all need to have that moment when God is so undeniably big, undeniably real, and undeniably good that we beg Him for another opportunity to get in on His story. We need to have an authentic encounter with God.
We need revival.
Our churches used to do this all the time. Revival was a huge movement for a long time. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of persons would show up at a certain place and a certain time, certain that they would encounter the living, active, loving God there. Knowing that He was going to show up. Expecting nothing less than the fullness of the Holy Spirit in that place. In them.
The sad truth is that the overwhelming majority of us don't even show up to church with that expectation. We don't think on a Sunday morning that God is going to join us. We expect to see three songs, a prayer, a sermon, and an invitation; we don't expect to see the Holy Spirit. In many cases, God is the last person we'd expect to see in our assemblies; we'd be more surprised if He showed up than if that neighbor with the "get off my lawn" sign walked in.
That's why we run for Tarshish.
But maybe...maybe running for Tarshish is what we need sometimes. Maybe that's the thing that's going to turn this around for us. Maybe, while we're busy running away, we'll finally find that God is, as He always has been, running toward us. Maybe what we need more of in our lives is a big fish. A fish so big that we can't possibly deny it. Maybe we all need to be covered in a little fish snot. Maybe that would wake us up.
We're more like Jonah than we think. We really are. We like to think that we wouldn't be, but our faith testifies against us. We simply don't have a theology that turns us toward Nineveh right away. Most of us, that is. We are a people running for Tarshish. That's just the truth.
So, then, may we be a people who discover God on the way there. Who find Him in the storms. Who throw ourselves with wild abandon into His seas. Determined, if nothing else, not to die wayward, but to die Godward, if we must die. And then, perhaps, to live. By nothing but His grace.
Which, by the way, He's been giving us all along.