The Jonah complex

By Dave Henning / September 10, 2015

“I am very brave generally, but today I have a headache.”-Tweedledum, Through the Looking Glass

“Be strong and courageous . . . for the Lord your God will be with you.”- Joshua 1:9

In Chapter 8 (“The Jonah complex”) of All the Places to Go, John Ortberg notes that we long for open doors, yet resist going through them.  Abraham Maslow called this perplexing tendency “the Jonah complex.”  While we admire people who give a wholehearted yes to God’s call on their lives, such people also make us uneasy, anxious, and confused.

Greg Levoy refers to Jonah as “the patron saint of refused callings.”  In Jonah’s story we see all our evasions of God’s calling reflected back to us.  Pastor Ortberg discusses four reasons why we’re tempted to hold back.  The first reason is presented today.

1.  Fear holds us back.  Nineveh was hated so much that the prophet Nahum referred to the city as “the city of blood.”  Nineveh was hated not just for cruelty, but for endless cruelty (Nahum 3:19).  Unlike Nahum, who made his proclamation while safely in Israel, God sent Jonah to speak to the Ninevites face-to-face.  Jonah not only didn’t go through God’s open door, he ran the other way, implicitly in fear.  John comments:

“Sometimes open doors are not fun.  Sometimes they’re not safe.  Always they’re about something greater than our own benefit.”

Avoidance never overcomes fear.  The antidote to fear is God’s presence.

Today’s question: Have you experienced “the Jonah complex” when faced with an open door?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Ships of Tarshish”



About the author

Dave Henning


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