The story of the prophet Jonah is the ultimate big fish story. When Jonah ran away from God, the Almighty stormed after him and engulfed him in the belly of the fish. We see it happen all the time, where people run away from those who love them the most. We see it with the teenage girl who rejects her mother's wisdom and gets into trouble while hanging out with the wrong people. There is the young man who is afraid of commitment because he is afraid of losing his prized freedom. But that is only half of the story. The other half is the story of the mother who cares lovingly and patiently for her daughter. There is the girlfriend or fiancee who shows her beau the true purpose of freedom – how only love can satisfy the human heart. There are many other stories like these – fathers who seek their sons, friends who continue to make themselves available for others, spouses who give it all for the sake of their marriages.
In the same way, God seeks us. And he does it with an unimaginable effort. The human heart is created to be generous, but due to original sin, it is not generous enough to give it all up and be satisfied with the love of God. We desire other things besides God, without recognizing that God has given us everything that we may find him in all things. But we desire other things in and of themselves. The human heart fears the love of God which demands sacrifice, and it sacrifices God instead. God is not satisfied with this, for he is a jealous God. God will have no other love in his place. God will seek us. And he will make an unimaginable effort to do so.
God is jealous for us. This jealousy is not the Green-Eyed Monster we find in Shakespeare's Othello or Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. God is not jealous in the ways of The Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent or Toy Story's Woody. God's jealousy does not stem from mistrust, insecurity, or fear – it is not inadequate or oppressive. There is no selfishness in God's jealousy, for it is an expression of his desire for us.
God is a passionate and committed lover. He knows that we cannot attain joy, vitality, and peace outside of him. Thus, God seeks us. And he seeks us in unimaginable ways. In Christ, he becomes human in order to search for the lost sheep. But many of the lost sheep have not merely gone missing; they are running away from God. Many of us are not interested in being found. We are actually afraid that God may find us. We fear losing our freedom. Yet, only in Christ can we find true freedom. And Jesus wants to gives us that freedom.
The author and apologist C.S. Lewis wrote about how as a young man he had become an atheist. He had a nagging fear that God might actually exist and he was afraid God would ask something of him. St. Augustine of Hippo delayed his conversion because he understood the consequences of living a Christian life. In the eighth book of his Confessions, he wrote a prayer he once prayed to God, “Oh, Master, make me chaste and celibate - but not yet!”
And yet, the Divine Master knows that we cannot experience true life unless we surrender completely to him. And thus, he chases after us. If by grace we become God-chasers and Christ-seekers, it is because God chased after us and sought us first. God loved us first (1 John 4:19). Everything else we do is a response to his love. God is that Hound of Heaven who pursues us as we attempt to flee down our labyrinthine ways.
God continues to pursue us even as we live our Christian calling. At times, the human heart evades and strays. There are moments in our lives when we are not listening to God, not hearing his voice, not feeling his suggestions, not accepting his invitations. There are moments when we withdraw from all worship, when we avoid community or family life, when we abstain from all that is life giving and flows from the Heart of Christ.
In those moments of desolation – when we decrease in faith, hope, and love – God seeks us in unimaginable ways. No matter how fast we flee, how clever we think we are in our attempt to run away from God, we cannot outrun him. It is futile to try. It is impossible to outpace God's pursuing affection. God knows that our hearts were made for him, and they will not rest in peace until they rest in him. God wants to soothe our pains and to transform our lives. His affection for us has no limits. God's mercy is massive. God spares no expense in going after those who run away. Ask Jonah.