The unbelieving believer and his God

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 1:9-10 (ESV)

Finally Jonah speaks. His self-disclosure goes straight to the point of why he is the cause of the storm. His 'people group' is Hebrew. He says that he fears the creator God. Most less literal Bible translations have Jonah instead saying that, "I worship the LORD". Jonah is saying that in the midst of this calamitous storm, in which you believe that someone has upset a god and the lots pointed to me as the one who has caused it; here is the information about me and my God.

But, the sailors had asked him, "what is your occupation, and where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?" Jonah simply answers what people he is a part of, which tells you what religion he embraces, what God he worships, and the geographic area he is from. This is Jonah's identity, a God fearing Hebrew. That's who he is. What he is doing (running from God's presence) is the other important part of his disclosure. There is no mention of Jonah's occupation, line of work, or what he "does". We can imagine that in his homeland, he might have been known as a Prophet, but at this moment, he only identifies himself as a God fearing Hebrew. Prophets were perhaps know as such because of their prophetic ministries. Jonah is running from his calling, gift, function, role, and office of Prophet.

Jonah had just witnessed what we might call a pagan sailor's prayer meeting. We don't know if there were any other Hebrews in the group, but it was implied that they were calling out to a variety of gods other than the God of the Hebrews that Jonah worshiped. Jonah says, "this is who my God is and I'm running away from him."

Notice that Jonah did not say, "and I am afraid of God". Fear of God and afraid of God are different. Fear of the Lord or God has to do with reverence and awe, respect and a bowing down to worship. Reverential fear of God leads to a life of obedience and worship. Reverential fear of God comes from a belief in God's almighty power. Most people who have this experience also believe in God's goodness, His love and mercy. But to walk in reverential fear of the Lord is to always have in mind the almightyiness of God, that God is supreme; supremely to be loved and obeyed and served.

The problem with Jonah's story that does not add up is that if his modus operandi or way of life is that he is a God follower, a follower of the top God, the creator God; and he says that he is a follower of God in that he says he fears this God. Then why is he disobeying God? Jonah will go on to tell the sailors that he is on the run from God, but at the same time he says it is the capital "G" God who surely has the power to get him back. He believes in God, is a God tribe member, and fears God; but he is willfully disobeying God. What?

On hearing Jonah, the men become afraid and say, "what is this that you have done". Literally, they say, "how could you do this?" Edward B. Pusey, in The Minor Prophets, writes, "The inconsistency of believers is the marvel of the young Christian, the repulsion of those without, the hardening of the unbeliever... Faith without love, knowledge without obedience, conscious dependence and rebellion, to be favored by God yet despise His favor, are the strangest marvels of this mysterious world. All nature seems to cry out against the rebellious Christian, "why hast thou done this! ...But to know, to believe, and to disobey! To disobey God in the name of God!... Such unrealities and inconsistencies would be a sore trial of faith had it not Jesus, Who knew what was in man (John 2:25), forewarned us that it would be so."1.

So, what do we make of this paradox? What will Jonah's story tell us about the unbelieving believer? Even though the book of Jonah is named after this man who's name means "dove", he really is not the center of the book or the story. God is the central person in this story. So far, the story seems to be telling us that when we run from God, he pursues us. God's mercy is relentless. God acts with mercy toward the disobedient, unbelieving believer; but God does it with discipline that is firm but gentle.

There's a wideness in God's mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

’Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
It is something more than all;
Greater good because of evil,
Larger mercy through the fall.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

-Frederick William Faber, 1854

1. Pusey, The Minor Prophets, p. 404; Funk, 1885

The picture above is taken from the cover of Tara Soughers book Fleeing From God