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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone

Don Stewart :: If God Is Everywhere Present, Then How Could Jonah Flee from His Presence?

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If God Is Everywhere Present, Then How Could Jonah Flee from His Presence?

The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone – Question 10

One of the central truths of Scripture is that God is everywhere present. However, this brings up a seeming contradiction. If God is everywhere, then how could the prophet Jonah hope to flee from God’s presence? We read in the Book of Jonah.

The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:1-3 NASB)

Does this mean that Jonah thought that He could go somewhere where the Lord could not find him? Some people actually believe this is what happened. They think that Jonah had a superstitious view of the Lord. Once Jonah got on the ship he thought that he could go to some place where the Lord was not.

However, such is not the case. Two things need to be emphasized when addressing the question as to what Jonah was fleeing from.

Jonah Fled from His Calling as a Prophet, Not from God’s Physical Presence

The phrase, “away from the presence of the Lord” does not mean that Jonah thought that He could somehow escape from God’s notice. The phrase has the meaning of Jonah running away from his calling as a prophet. Indeed, he was attempting to flee from the ministry God gave him.

In fact, the wayward prophet Jonah realized that he could not hide from the living God. He said to the sailors on the ship.

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (Jonah 1:9 NIV)

He certainly knew he could not go to any place where the Lord could not find Him. Since God created everything that there is, there is nothing that escapes His notice.

The Contemporary English Version brings out the correct idea. It translates the first three verses of Jonah in this manner.

One day the LORD told Jonah, the son of Amittai, to go to the great city of Nineveh and say to the people, “The LORD has seen your terrible sins. You are doomed!” Instead, Jonah ran from the LORD. He went to the seaport of Joppa and bought a ticket on a ship that was going to Spain. Then he got on the ship and sailed away to escape. (Jonah 1:1-3 CEV)

This gives the correct idea of what these verses are saying. Jonah ran away from the Lord’s calling; it was not His actual presence.

Thus, when properly understood, there is no contradiction. Indeed, Jonah did not have some primitive idea that God was limited to a certain area. He knew that there was no place on heaven or on earth where He could flee from the Lord.

Summary – Question 10
If God Is Everywhere Present, Then How Could Jonah Flee from His Presence?

Scripture says that God is everywhere in the universe. Indeed, God’s omnipresence is one of the central truths about His character. Yet this presents a problem when we read the first chapter of the Book of Jonah.

The Bible says that the prophet Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord. How could this be the case if God is everywhere present?

Some believe it shows that Jonah had a limited perspective of God. Indeed, he thought God lived in one particular area. Therefore, Jonah could flee to a region where God was unaware as to what was occurring.

However, this is not the case. The thought behind Jonah fleeing from God’s presence was his fleeing his office as a prophet of God. Jonah did not think that he could go somewhere where God did not exist. In fact, Jonah clearly declared that he worshipped the God of heaven who made both the sea and the land. He realized it was futile to flee from God.

Therefore, the statement that Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord does not have the meaning that he thought he could escape God. He realized that he could not. Jonah was trying to flee from his responsibility of informing the people of Nineveh of their upcoming judgment. God would not allow him to do this. Eventually Jonah reached Nineveh with the message of the Lord.

Consequently, when we look at all the evidence, we find no contradiction between the doctrine of God’s omnipresence and this statement in the first chapter of Jonah.

In What Specific Ways Is God Present with His Creation? ← Prior Section
If God Is Present Everywhere, Then How Can Unbelievers Be Separated from Him? Next Section →
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