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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lessons from Jonah - Four

As I said when I started this story, most everyone knows the story of Jonah and the Whale1. Even unbelievers have heard that one. Indeed, that whole "fish" thing is what really throws people off, believers and unbelievers alike. It gets in the way. It is a distraction at best and a point of contention at worst. Why? Well, because it's not normal. It's miraculous. I mean, even if it is actually true (as I would contend) that Jonah really was swallowed by some sea creature and spit up on the land three days later, it would be a one-of-a-kind event (you know, like the death and resurrection of Christ, an event that Jonah's experience illustrated). And that's a distraction. At best.

Why? Well, we here in the 21st century with our modern Arbitrator of Truth, Science, may its name be blessed forever, can't actually support such a position. While Science itself argues for one-of-a-kind events (like the Big Bang), it quickly shoots down the biblical miracle as unsupportable. And we're in trouble, either from unbelievers or even from believers influenced by ... the lie.

I would argue the opposite, however. I would argue that what Science denies as miraculous is simply part of a continuum of God's hand. I would argue that the mundane is the miraculous2. And I'll illustrate that from the story of Jonah.

We know that when the story begins, God knew the outcome already. He knew that Jonah would run. So, at the very beginning of the story we have God speaking to Jonah (a supernatural event on its own) when God knew that Jonah would run. When he did run as expected, "the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea" (Jonah 1:4). This was not an accidental event, a coincidence. It was a supernatural event. As the sailors panicked and threw lots, the lot fell on the one man whose fault the storm was, a supernatural event. Against their preferences, the sailors threw him overboard. Now, that might seem like a normal event, but Jonah understood otherwise. In his prayer of repentance he told God, "You cast me into the deep" (Jonah 2:3) -- a supernatural event. When Jonah hit the water, the storm stopped (Jonah 1:15). Now, in nature, storms don't stop. They abate. Another supernatural event. And as the ship sailed on and Jonah tread water, God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17). As we've already determined, that, too, was not a natural occurrence.

I haven't gotten to Jonah's repentance in the belly of the fish (because that in itself is miraculous, both in the repentance and in his continued survival), his deliverance to dry land (Jonah 2:10), his proclamation of repentance in the sinful city of Ninevah that produced instantaneous repentance there (Jonah 3:3-5), or Jonah's "worm" that God sent (Jonah 4:7). The point is that, while so many balk at the whale part of the story, the entire book of Jonah is a list of miracles, traced directly to the hand of God. And we object to ... the fish.

It is, I suppose, an illustration of our basic problem. We think that the jobs we have and the families we're in and the places we live and the freedoms we enjoy are our doing. We think that every breath we take and every beat of our hearts are automatic functions apart from God. We think we live and breathe and have our being all on our own. And that whole whale thing? Yeah, that's problematic. We have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). In other words, when we balk at the fish, we illustrate that we are fallen beings in rebellion to our God. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things" (Rom 11:36). "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:17). And "all" is not a few things.
1 I should point out that sometimes much is made that "it wasn't a whale". Really, don't bother going there. You know that Jonah wasn't thinking, "Now, let's see, what exactly was it that ate me? It was a sea creature, to be sure, but was it a mammal? No, it wasn't that, so don't use the word for 'whale' here. Use the word for 'fish' so they don't get confused and think that God miraculously had a whale swallow me rather than a fish. I mean, a whale swallowing someone would just be ridiculous, right? No, we need to keep the taxonomy correct." Really, folks, "whale" or "fish" just doesn't matter. Not the point. "Sea creature" is all that's important.

2 Somebody may wish to point out that biblical "miracles" were specific, designed by God as signs of the reality of His messengers. All well and good. I'm using the term "miraculous" here just in the sense of something that is not a naturally occurring event, but clearly the hand of God.

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