Fleeing from the Presence of the Lord Jonah (@minidvr)

“And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them”. Jonah 1:3-10 (ESV)

The story of Jonah and the Whale is one of the most well known in the Bible, probably many who have little or no contact with Christianity, will have heard the story in one context or another in their life.

http://www.theworshipcloud.com/view/images/the-nineveh-project

http://www.theworshipcloud.com/view/images/the-nineveh-project

 

The thing that struck me, when rereading the opening passage was the concept of ‘Fleeing from the presence of the Lord’.   I reflected on my own past relationship with God, or lack of a relationship, through my own choice. It strikes me that I was doing in some fashion, the impossible, or improbable, what Jonah was seeking to do – to avoid doing what God was calling him to do, in his case, bad news to the people of Ninevah, of God’s rage against them.  In my case, it wasn’t fear of the Lord, more like rejecting the Lord for his absence when I needed him.   In other words, if he couldn’t be bothered to respond to my prayer and pleading, than I couldn’t be bothered with him either.

So, how did my fleeing from the presence of the Lord work?

It meant abandoning all of the concepts of God, it meant, discarding the trappings of a religion that I now regarded as obsolete.  It meant abandoning a faith, which while I wasn’t the best adherent of, had featured in my life from my early childhood.  Being raised from age 4 to 10 in a Catholic Orphanage, had formed me, whether I liked it or not.  I no longer held the shaky, undefinable belief that there could be a God.  It meant denying God loudly and noisily!  I declared myself Agnostic (not Atheist), I worked on the theory that if there was a God, he didn’t deserve my faith or belief in him.

At the time I was coping with delayed grief over the death of my father, the suicide of a friend and the breakdown of my marriage.   In all of this, my heartfelt prayers and pleadings to God to make things right, went unheeded.  I couldn’t see past the pain and grief I felt at the time. The Church had been no help. I was condemned by a Priest for my actions, not wanting to listen to my story.  All I felt was the absence of any source of help, peace or comfort.

Everywhere there were signs and portents that my fleeing was an aberration, a mistake. I met Christians, who I could admire for their integrity and sincerity, which I didn’t really find to much in Secular circles.  In some ways, I was shielded form their influence, as I worked in an organisation where politics and religion, while not the banned, where not discussed as a matter of policy and form.   I knew Christians, but their religious lives were their own business, not mine, but I was happy to call them friends, as long as they respected my views as well.

Of course, I couldn’t escape the presence of God!   He was there around me,  just because I stopped believing, didn’t mean that Christianity disappeared.  Churches were still there to mock me.  I met Clergy or Padre’s who, I could have a friendship with, but whose source of hope, I disparaged  as some form of mysticism or even mumbo-jumbo.   I was able to respect them for being good men or women,  I just couldn’t subscribe to their allegiance to a God, whose absence has so dramatically affected my whole life.

I seemed to find a middle way.  

I could hold ethical views, similar to those held by Christians, but founded on a secular morality.   I could have integrity in being an Agnostic, because there were many people, who were nominally Christian, but didn’t actively practice their faith. There were some who were Christian, who behaved in ways that were decidedly unchristian in my view.     I would  have described them as hypocrite, but I just couldn’t be bothered to join in the discussion.

Did I escape?

Reading Jonah’s story, reminds me strongly that we can ‘ignore’ the presence of God, but we can’t flee from him.   He will find us and in the end, will convert us.   Despite Jonah’s reluctance, fear and trepidation, he was eventually coerced by God into doing his will.   Jonah’s prayer, in Chapter 2[1] seems to echo my thoughts at the time I left the church, if only I had heeded them – I might have stayed:

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’

 ”And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land[2]”.

This line speaks to me, metaphorically, of how my fleeing the Lord ended.

In August 2008, while dealing with a particularly traumatic pastoral situation, while supported by a Padre, I experienced in the midst of my emotional turmoil and distress, the voice of God speaking directly to and in me, ‘I am here – let me in’ and that was the turning point.   The Lord had caught up with me, as he did with Jonah, and things changed for ever – now I would ‘yet again, look on his Holy Temple’.

Thanks be to God.

[1]Jonah 2:3&4

[2]Jonah 2:10

About Ernie Feasey

Anglican, Ex-Officer, trying to discern a vocation to Ordained Ministry