Jonah and Doubt Part 1
One of my favorite poems by Madeline L’Engle begins like this:
“I hate you, God
(from “Love Letter”)
We can see and feel Madeline’s struggle in these six words. She calls it a love letter to God, but she says she hates him, and then she sends her love.
The poem in its entirety is purposefully provocative and offensive. Madeline writes honestly about her struggle with doubt and wont to run from him.
We see ourselves in Madeline’s words and it makes us uncomfortable because we know the struggle all to well. At some point, we all doubt. We want to love God-we do love him-but there are times when we doubt him. We doubt because we misunderstand his character. We doubt because we don’t like or understand what he is doing.
Did God not answer your prayers the way you wanted him to? Are you wrestling with why evil things happen? Are you afraid God is not the good God he claims to be?
Jonah asked these same questions.
I love Jonah so much because I relate to him. Jonah is not only a doubter, but he’s sometimes a whiny brat. I can be a whiny brat with God too. Jonah is one of my people.
“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people to repent and trust God. Jonah cannot get out of God's presence fast enough.
If you’re looking at a modern day map, Nineveh is in present-day Iraq. This means that Jonah jumped on a boat and attempted to sail across the Mediterranean Sea to Spain. He tried to get as far away from God as possible.
Jonah tells us why he ran from God in chapter 4.
“That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (verse 2)
It’s shocking. We usually claim God is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love to comfort our souls. Jonah, on the other hand, hated God’s mercy. He hated it when God applied it to his enemies, anyway. The people who lived in Nineveh were the Assyrians and throughout the Old Testament, we see the Israelites and the Assyrians at war. They despised each other. The Assyrians murdered many of Jonah’s people. They worshipped idols and they hated God. Jonah is incredulous that God wants to show his arch enemies mercy. He hated God’s redemptive work in their lives.
It's easy for us to look at Jonah and think, “What a jerk,” but let’s examine the root of his doubt in God’s actions. What would cause a man who loves God, who has been shown mercy himself, to despise the mercy of God? The answer goes back to the Garden of Eden-it is the very lie that is the root of all of our doubt.
When Satan tempted Eve, he encouraged her to question God’s love and character. First, Satan says “Did God tell you to not eat of any fruit of any tree?” He attempted to persuade her to believe that God is a cruel God by twisting God’s words. Then he says, “If you eat this fruit, you will not surely die. God just told you that because he doesn’t want you to have all of his knowledge.” In other words, Satan whispered to Eve, “God is a liar. He does not love you and he is withholding good things from you.”
Like Eve, Jonah feared that God did not actually care about him. If he cared for him, why would he send him to his enemies? Jonah was afraid that God was withholding good things from him. If God offers mercy to the Assyrians, what about his special promise to Israel? He didn’t like what God was doing because he was afraid God did not have his best interest at heart.
We often doubt because we do not believe God is good and that he really cares about us.
Let me be clear-doubt in itself is not a sin. Jesus questioned God on the cross and he was without sin. However, our response to doubt can be sinful. We have a choice: we can pick up our doubts and run from God or we can run to God and lay our doubts at his feet.
Jonah chose to run, as we often do.
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Read the rest of the Jonah Series:
Part 3: Three Things We Can Discover in Doubt