For those of us who didn’t first learn about Jonah in Sunday School, the story seems scientifically impossible and a proof point that the Bible contains preposterous accounts, if not downright inaccuracies.
For those of us who did first learn the story of Jonah in Sunday School, we leave the scientific debate to others. (I don’t embrace creationism versus evolution arguments, either.) Hearing the story as a young child, all I can say is that it made sense, a truth easily grasped by children and often far better than learned adults.
It’s not about the fish.
The story of Jonah is about many things, and to focus on the fish is to miss all of them. It’s about faith, obedience, understanding the culture and world one lives within, understanding how God works in that world, repentance, and having expectations confounded or confirmed.
Jonah is an individual whose life gets played out in a much larger context. And it’s a geopolitical story, the story of the capital city of a brutal empire being brought to its knees.
And, as Andy Stanley points out in The Grace of God, it is a perplexing story of God’s grace. Perplexing, in that the Assyrians deserved anything but grace. What they did deserve was destruction for their brutality and the evil they committed upon the surrounding nations and peoples (they were the ones who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, whose people disappeared into history).
And yet, the fish notwithstanding, Jonah makes his way to Nineveh, and preaches repentance for three days (the same number of days he was inside the fish; and likely the same number of days in his “anger at God” period at the end of the story). The city listens to his preaching, repents, and is spared God’s wrath, much to Jonah’s chagrin. He knew this would happen, because he knew God as a God of grace.
And it made him angry.
I identify with the Assyrians. I did nothing to deserve God’s grace. Nothing. Just the opposite, in fact. And I was grateful for it.
And I identify with Jonah. Don’t all those people today who deny and ridicule the very notion of God, the people think his church is filled with stupid yahoos, the people who murder and destroy and tear at the very fabric of our society, the people who are trying to force an anti-Christian underpinning on everything in the culture, well, surely they deserve to get theirs, right?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps they will hear the call to repentance; perhaps Christians will articulate a call to repentance. Perhaps God will spare them too. The story of Jonah is also the story opf how anyone, no matter how evil, can repent and be forgiven.
Yes, the story of Jonah is a story of God’s Grace.
Led by Jason Stayszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing The Grace of God by Andy Stanley. To see more posts on this chapter, “Puzzled by Grace,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photograph by Sally Pesavento via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.