"1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah set out 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 his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”
I’ve gone through a weird spot with my faith in the last few months. This is not something I often feel comfortable admitting. A ‘weird’ spot is not something you want to acknowledge. After all, when you base the entire way you live your life upon your faith, when you tell your friends specific things because of your faith and when you think the way you do because of your faith, you do not want to feel unstable in that faith. Or even a little… odd. Starting my college education had lead me to new revelations about Jesus, about who he was and what he represented and most importantly what I thought he looked like at work in a practical sense. I’d learned and read more than I ever had before out of a thirst to do just that. I had been raised in faith, now I was exploring it to the edges that I hadn’t even realised were there. Here’s what I realised - this whole thing is much, much bigger than I could ever conceive.
Here’s where feeling weird came in. I had learned too much and I could not go back to the way I was before. I struggled to reconcile previously held axioms with a (hopefully) less naive view of the world. Deepening relationships had lead to uncertainties about the way I interacted with others according to the Word. Moreover, even with my sheltered view into the Western world, I struggled to bear witness to the anger, sadness and insecurity around me and not feel discouraged. How can the Kingdom be on its merry way when the world was as it is? My only solution was that I and my fellow Christians were to be the one’s to usher in this Kingdom, yet I certainly did not feel capable of this, and I was no longer certain of what it looked like to let Jesus do this through me (as I’d been told I’d have to let happen). My double use of brackets here perhaps give you a sense of where I was at. My faith axioms now perpetually had some form of parentheses following shortly after them. This is not something you want to admit to yourself, let alone your friends, family and strangers. I wasn’t sure about huge aspects of my faith and therefore, I was not sure about anything anymore. I took the easy way out of this situation. I pulled a Jonah.
This is the only way I could describe my situation. I knew exactly what I needed to do and where I needed to go - to face these problems head-on and continue learning more and more to reconcile my new found uncertainties. This was a scary prospect. Such an approach had already left me feeling so uncomfortable and out of place. I was so angry at myself, at God, because I knew if I went the way he was pointing I would be once again reconciled because of who He is. “A gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Jonah 4:2 NRSV). I felt like committing to finding peace once again between my faith and the world would be dishonest to myself as my questions had brought me too far. And so I ran from the presence of the Lord, a presence which only sheds a light which I did not feel like seeing. I went to Church from time to time, I spoke the same language albeit with some semblance of discontent creeping in occasionally. Yet I never travelled to Ninevah. I never confronted that which I had believe I had been called to stare head on. That was the difficult thing to. How much easier was it to run away, to accept that the world was an unhappy place I would never find peace in? As it turns out, this approach only works for so long. My mentality dropped through the floor along with any kind of optimism. I was not a content person. I let friendships go uncared for. After all, what did it all matter? Luckily, my whale was on the way.
Such a grey way of seeing the world only lasted so long for me. The Lord had never left me as he never left Jonah. As we have been told many times, there is no place in Heaven or Earth which we can run from His presence. I did not know if the world could be reconciled, but who was I to say whether it could or could not? Besides, what good would doing nothing do for anyone? Nothingness and sadness were already wandering around in abundance. I’d caught familiar glimpses of what it used to be like to have a ‘Kingdom’ outlook; a never-ending optimism and vibrancy of view which only finds its roots from the bottom up, an unfaltering faith that the restoration of all things is always possible, no matter how late the hour.
6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
This still left me with my questions. My irreconcilables. Well, I could no longer expect to find the answers today, or tomorrow, or this year. Yet one thing was for sure - I knew nothing. And that was okay. I knew enough to get me by. The world was a rough place. I could either add to that inclement status or I could do my very best to be a Kingdom builder, someone who may not understand Grace or misery but certainly knows which one is better. Maybe I’ll answer some of those questions along the way. I was back on my slow, steady push, in a slow, steady direction. I am not sure what lays at the end, but I am sure what lays behind.
Alex McElwee is a Dublin born student attending University College Dublin for Arts and Humanities. His idea of an afternoon well spent is a hot day wearing lycra spandex on a bicycle before going home to read the works of Steinbeck or Hemingway. Come alongside him as he writes inexperienced things about Jesus and tries to build the Kingdom in the best way he can.