Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 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.” He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you” (Jonah 1:8–9, 12, esv).
While there are a lot of lessons tucked into the short book of Jonah, one obvious one is that the longer our rebellion lasts, the harder it is to get back. The prophet Jonah is Exhibit A of this lesson.
Jonah rebelled against God. Now rebellion is not ignorance. When you don’t know what God wants you to do, you behave ignorantly. An action may still be sinful, but it’s not rebellious if it’s done in ignorance.
Rebellion also isn’t discouragement. Maybe you know the right things to do but you need support to get it done. When you know what’s right but you’re trying and failing and desperately need encouragement, that’s not rebellion either.
“God doesn’t ignore or give up on rebels.”
Rebellion is when you know what God wants you to do, but you won’t do it. It’s a flat-out refusal to do what God clearly requires. Rebellion can be the tone you set in your marriage or family, or it can relate to your time, finances, or lifestyle. In the book of Jonah, the people of Nineveh were ignorant sinners, but Jonah was a rebel who knew better.
God spoke to His prophet Jonah, and He has written a Book for us. If you know what it says and won’t do it, then you’re rebelling. The longer your rebellion lasts, the harder it is to get back on track. When the account of Jonah ends, the prophet is still suffering the effects of his reticence to repent.
Here’s the good news: God doesn’t ignore or give up on rebels. First gently, then aggressively, always relentlessly, God pursues us. He wanted Jonah’s attention, and He did something radical to get it. He might not use a great fish in your case, but God is willing to go to incredible lengths to get your full, undivided attention. Radical love means taking extreme measures to rescue rebellious children.
God would rather see you anywhere than in disobedience to Him. He would rather see you in a hospital bed than living in disobedience to Him. He would rather see you in bankruptcy court than living in disobedience to Him. Perhaps you feel intense loneliness right now, or you’re wrestling with a perplexing question about faith. By no means are these situations always a result of rebellion, but if you’re experiencing pressure and refusing to yield to God, He will get your attention.
Once he was finally humble and broken, “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘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’” (Jonah 2:1–2). And how did God reply? Did He lecture Jonah, “I told you so”? No, God lovingly welcomed him back.
Jonah could have gotten right with God at the ticket booth or on the deck of the boat. He didn’t have to go to the fish. You could save yourself a world of hurt by surrendering. You could do it willingly.
Is God pursuing you about something specific? Remember that the longer rebellion lasts, the harder it is to get back. In fact, you could turn to Him right now. Your Father is waiting for you.
Almighty Father, help me to realize that surrendering to You means giving in, not giving up, and turning to face You instead of running away from You. I know that You pursue me because You love me. Thank You that because of Your radical love for me, You’re willing to take extreme measures to rescue me. Forgive me for rebelling, Lord, for knowing the right but choosing the wrong. If there’s something specific I need to surrender to You, please show me clearly. Thank You that You hear my voice, just as You heard Jonah’s from the belly of the fish, and thank You that You welcome me back home. I pray in the name of Jesus, my Rescuer, amen.