MM00070 The Jonah Syndrome
Mentoring Manna: The Jonah Syndrome
© 2003 Pastor Keith Hassell
Jonah 1:3 “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord…” Jonah was a prophet of God. However, one assignment he received from the Lord hit a nerve in his soul. God told him to give a warning of judgment to the people of Nineveh, Israel’s enemy. Jonah could not tolerate the idea that the inhabitants of Nineveh might actually repent and experience God’s mercy instead of wrath. That was not what he had been praying for! He revolted and did something very foolish: he ran from the presence of the Lord.
Everyone has reacted like Jonah at some point in his or her life. Tragically, some people spend their whole life avoiding the people with whom they have problems. We may think that we are running from people and problems, but in reality we are avoiding the issues in our own life. God knew the attitudes that Jonah held in his heart toward the people of Nineveh. Jonah did not realize that God’s assignment was as much about bringing change in his attitude as it was about bringing repentance to the people of a pagan city.
Jonah thought he could run from his problem. But he found out that nothing could be further from the truth! Man cannot escape the dealings of God no matter how far and fast he runs. When Jonah tried to flee on a ship in the opposite direction, God confronted him with a storm. It was a storm of difficult circumstances. The storm not only threatened Jonah but also the ship and the crew that was on it. Only when the ship’s crew took action to throw Jonah out of the boat and back into the hands of God did the storm cease for them.
After the men threw Jonah into the sea, God prepared a large fish to swallow him. He remained in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights engaged in a serious prayer meeting with God. It was here that Jonah became ready to acknowledge and face his own sin. He understood that the attitude of his heart toward the people of Nineveh was just as much an issue with God as their sin. In repentance Jonah declared, “I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9) He reaffirmed his commitment to be an obedient prophet.
Once God freed him from his underwater prison, Jonah obeyed the Lord and delivered His message to Nineveh. However, when he saw their repentance and the mercy of God extended, his dislike for the people of Nineveh resurfaced. In order to continue the lesson, God grew a plant overnight as a shade for Jonah from the great heat. Jonah was very grateful for the plant. Then God prepared a worm to eat the plant so that it died. Filled with anger, despair, and self-pity, Jonah said to God, “It is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:8). But God reminded Jonah of his real problem: “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left---and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:10-11) I wonder if Jonah ever understood. Do we?
Application: Running from a problem could be called the “Jonah Syndrome.” Usually when problems arise, God gives us an assignment to forgive, to apologize, to seek restoration, and to walk in love. But our flesh doesn’t want to do that! So we run away from the problem or from the people rather than to resolve the problem in a biblical way. Foolishly we believe that by getting away from “the problem,” things will get better. We live under the false idea that something “out there” needs to change when actually something “inside” needs to change. We assume that the problem is with others rather than with ourselves. So we escape to “greener pastures” where we never have to be reminded that there ever was a problem. Over time, however, we find that the problem only gets worse. Running somewhere else only brings God’s storm upon them! God is not after them. He is after us! But whoever aids a running saint becomes directly involved in the process of God’s dealings. In such a situation, the honeymoon is short-lived and they too are ready to throw us overboard to get some relief! When God is dealing with your heart, avoid the mistake Jonah made that landed him in a fish’s belly. Don’t run away from your problems. Obey God!