There is a lot of emphasis in the story of Jonah on the fact that Jonah went exactly the opposite way from where God wanted him to go. It occurred to me reading it the other day that because that is true in this story, it can tempt us to be confident in the fact that we’ve never gone 180 degrees away from where God wanted us to go. I mean, when you think about that, that’s a really big deal! It’s a pretty “in your face” action toward God and while some people certainly do take that bold action, I’d hazard a guess that most practicing Christians would have difficulty actually carrying out a plan to purposely go 100% in the wrong direction away from God.
Remember when you started using protractors in math class? You learn very quickly that drawing an angle just a few degrees “off” doesn’t show too much when drawn small, but as soon as you start to extend the lines, it becomes easy to see how off base your angle really is. We all know that if you steer your plane or your rocket just a degree off course, you could end up in a different country, or a different planet – and we would all readily recognize that as being just plain wrong.
I wonder how many times we, as “good Christians”, make decisions that we, in our human minds, view as being “close enough” to what God asked us to do that it will be essentially “the same”. How many times do we do almost what was asked of us, but cut just a bit short for one selfish reason or another? Only with the benefit of hindsight (or “God sight”) will we see just how “off” we ended up…
I hesitate to give an example, because it is such a personal issue – just between you and God, but I will give one to illustrate, and just take it for what it is – an example of a concept, not a textbook case to be picked apart or “yeah but what if…”ed. 🙂
It’s the little things that are most easy to rationalize – especially in a culture like the one we live in (in the West, I mean). For example, if God says to ask a stranger to come to your church, and you strike up a conversation and make the person feel special but resolve in your heart to only mention church if it “comes up naturally”, then that’s a degree off from the direction God set for you. Sure, it’s “better” than just walking past the person and ignoring them, but is it fully walking on obedience to God?
This could be applied to anything – it’s one of those strictly-between-you-and-God things, and no one else can ever know or tell you (without a word from God themselves) how this applies to you. It’s just, if you keep making decisions that leave you 1 degree off course, then eventually, you’ll be on a whole different path from the one God had first planned for you… which is not to say that leaves you hopeless, but it’s certainly not ideal!