Being at loggerheads with God is a tough row to hoe. I hate being in that place and yet, recall times when my attitude and agenda positioned themselves perpendicular to God, instead of parallel. When we set our hearts towards a specific outcome and God does the unexpected, we don’t always adjust well. Once such time for me occurred when I re-entered the teaching field after many years of absence.
In my forties, I returned to college and added an English degree to my existing Music and Communication degree. My goal to become an English teacher, seemed quite attainable. God led me to add that certification, so I felt certain he’d reward me with the position I desired. My passion for directing choirs and plays became eclipsed by my desire to teach literature and composition.
No matter how I kept re-working my resume, the only job interviews I could land were for music teachers. I felt angry and frustrated with God that I kept my end of the deal, and he didn’t come through on his. Spending all the time, effort and money on that English degree seemed like a waste, and so I reluctantly accepted another job in Vocal Music. God clearly opened the door, as the school asked me to come interview before I ever applied. I set my heart to teach direct choirs again, heartily unto the Lord, and trusted him to heal the disappointment of not teaching English.
Jonah behaved horribly when things didn’t go as he hoped, and the people of Nineveh repented. After initially running away, Jonah preached his judgement message in Nineveh. I can only imagine the dangers and ridicule he faced delivering that news. Judging by his reaction to the city’s massive move towards humility and repentance, we conclude that he didn’t rejoice in that outcome at all.
His outburst to God is both tragic and hilarious.
“He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you were a compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’” Jonah 4:2-3.
As I paraphrase this passage, here’s what it sounds like to me.
“God, I never wanted to go to Nineveh in the first place. Those people are perverse and wicked and deserve to be destroyed. I just knew that they’d probably repent if I went there and preached and then you wouldn’t judge them, like you really should. Just kill me now.” Jonah didn’t think Nineveh deserved mercy and thought there should be a different outcome for his efforts.
God answers back. He grows a leafy plant to shade Jonah from the desert sun then sends a worm to destroy the plant. Jonah repeats his request to die, and God explains his object lesson.
“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, thought you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than hundred and twenty thousand people (children in the Hebrew) who cannot tell their right hand from their left-and also many animals?’” Jonah 4:10-11
The above verses abruptly end the book of Jonah. We don’t know if the prophet ever walked parallel with God again.
When we are in a perpendicular place with God, he asks us the same question, “Why are you so upset about this thing over here, that didn’t go your way, instead of seeing heaven’s vantage point on this matter?”
When we find ourselves at odds with God, we need to acknowledge that we are the odd man out. We think we deserve explanations about stuff that goes sideways, but God is not beholden to our limited thinking abilities. He’s under no obligation to answer all our questions. God is looking for people of faith who can say, “This makes no sense to me, but I’m going to obey God heartily and cheerfully and walk through the doors he opens for me and not bang my fists against the ones he closes.”
That last vocal music job I took turned into an English job during the second year. God delayed my dream, but he did not deny it because it originated with him just as Jonah’s call did. I wonder if we might have heard from Jonah again in the Old Testament if he hadn’t gone off on such an angry bent.
Stop overthinking every situation that goes a different direction than you expected. If you keep your heart pure and humble before God, he will cause even your honest mistakes to be part of your destiny journey.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time”
I Peter 5:6.
If you are on the outs with God right now, please don’t stay there. Accept that he is weaving a complex tapestry with your life. You can only see a small portion in any given moment. Trust the One who sees the entire work from beginning to end. Don’t be a Jonah.