The underlying truth behind all spiritual disciplines and missionary endeavours is that God is the Divine Seeker. We seek God only because He has first sought us. At the end of the day, it is God who primarily seeks us; we are the sought.
Francis Thompson’s poem expresses this profound human experience of a God who pursues us relentlessly.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways…
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace…
The story of Jonah is an account of how God pursued not only the Ninevites, but also the sailors and Jonah himself with fatherly love and missionary persistence.
Why does God go into such great trouble in pursuing us? Why does He not simply reject us when we are stubborn or stupid?
In the contemporary song “My Worth Is Not in What I Own”, there are a few beautiful lines:
Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed—my ransom paid
At the cross
The two wonders mentioned here explain why God pursues us. Firstly, our unworthiness—we know we have sinned and stand condemned. God pursues us to save us from what would be our default destiny. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).
God also pursues us because we are His creatures, created in His image (Gen 1:27), and carry the dignity of being His handiwork. Like the heavenly Potter that He is, God picks up the broken pottery and remakes it with gentle loving hands.
It is thus for this dual truth—that we are both unworthy and worthy, that God pursues us with such persevering endurance, with a love that refuses to give up. A theologian used the phrase “noble ruins” to describe human beings, thus capturing this dual truth of both worthiness and unworthiness.
We should also pursue those who do not yet know God in the same way He does and for the same reasons. Our attitudes must be those of the God who uses us to reach others. This means that we should keep in focus both the Great Commission (to proclaim the gospel of Christ to every soul) and the Great Commandment (to love everyone as God-made people).
God’s pursuit of us should make us realise the foundational truth that God loves us. But we must be careful that we do not preach a truncated gospel that ignores God’s holiness and transcendence. Experiencing God’s love is not antithetical to learning to fear Him.
In the first chapter of Jonah, the fear of God is a central idea. When confronted and questioned by the sailors, Jonah professed, “I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). Jonah was guilty of not practising what he professed. In his actions he did not fear God.
It was the sailors who were terrified (v 10) because they recognised the implications of what Jonah had said. The men, who had cried out to their own gods, started crying out to the Lord (v 14). They were at first afraid of the violent storm (v 5), then terrified when they heard about God. As God worked in their hearts, they developed a great and healthy fear of the Lord that led to worship (v 16).
The fear of the Lord is always the proper response to realising the love of God. To know that God pursues us should help us to recognise His undying love for us and should create in us a holy fear of the God who pursues us day and night.
Picture by Tinnakorn/Bigstock.com