Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.” The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. – Jonah 2:4-6 ESV
There’s an old hymn that I remember singing as a child and I can’t help but think of it when I read this portion of Jonah’s prayer. The first line says,
I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,
But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
The refrain gives a reminder of the motivation behind God’s rescue of the sinking sinner:
Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me!
Everything in Jonah’s life was headed in the wrong direction. And it all started when he began running from God. The instructions Jonah had received from God had been very clear. “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2 ESV). But Jonah had other ideas. He had no interest in obeying God’s command, so he decided to get out of town. “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” (Jonah 1:3-4 ESV).
As absurd as it may sound to us to attempt to run from God, the reality is that we do it all the time. Like Jonah, there are times when we hear God tell us to do something that sounds less-than-appealing to us. For Jonah, it was taking a message to the pagan people of Ninevah and running the risk that they might actually listen and repent. Jonah couldn’t accept the thought of the pagans living in that wicked city being forgiven by God. So he ran. Just like we do. We run from His will. We run from His Spirit’s promptings. Some of us avoid His Word so that we don’t have to hear from Him. Others read His Word, but if it ever convicts them, they promptly ignore it. They run. But you can’t run from God. Jonah discovered that universal truth. But he also discovered that God is a persistent God who expects His word to be obeyed. He had a job for Jonah to do and He wasn’t going to let a little boat cruise get in the way. So God caused a storm and Jonah knew exactly who was behind it. He ended up being made a living sacrifice by the pagan sailors on the ship in an effort to appease whatever god was behind the wind and waves.
The next thing he knew, Jonah was sinking – sinking in his sin of rebellion against the will of God and sinking in the cold, wind-whipped waters of the sea. But Jonah was going to learn one more valuable lesson. God is also a loving, merciful, kind and patient God. He was going to reach down and lift Jonah out of the depths of his own sin and rebellion and deliver him safe and sound so that he could complete his assignment. Just when all hope was lost for Jonah, God stepped in and rescued him. Not because he deserved it. It was the love of God that lifted Jonah out of the sea. It was the love of God that sovereignly ordained a large fish to swallow Jonah and regurgitate him up on the shore. Jonah was lifted by the love of God. Which is why he could say, “yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.”
It is senseless to run from God. You won’t get far. And God will always get what He wants. Attempting to run from God will only result in hurt and heartache. God will not allow His children to live in continuous rebellion to His will. He will get their attention one way or the other. God will bring them to the point where they discover their running from Him has not put any distance from His presence, but has simply left them devoid of any joy, hope or peace. But even when all appears lost, God lovingly reaches down and lifts up those whose lives have been marked by disobedience. He rescues the rebellious. He recommissions the resistant. He restores the prodigal to his rightful place as His child.
In his poem, The Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson writes of an individual attempting to run from God. But God, in His loving persistence, cries out:
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!
When we find ourselves sinking, even as a result of our own rebellion, there are only one set of hands that are capable of reaching down and rescuing us. The powerful hands of our loving God. It is His hands alone that can lift us out of the waves and restore us to a right relationship with Him. So that we can say, “Love lifted me!”