Why is it that we love to tell little kids the story of Jonah and the big fish? Is it because it seems larger than life? Even a bit mythical? It’s puzzling because the deeper story of Jonah doesn’t always seem fit for children. It’s as if we’re saying, “Hey Tommy, disobey God and we’ll feed you to the Kraken!”
Let's go sideways for a moment. Yogi Berra, who died recently at the age of 90, was famous for his humorous word play. He was the one who coined the phrases, “It ain’t over till it’s over” and “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Yet, if you only knew Berra's affinity for words, you would have missed the larger and greater story of his life: his immeasurable influence on the game of baseball.
Here is where we connect the dots because the same is true with Jonah. If all you ever know about his story is the larger-than-life moment when he gets swallowed by a sea creature and then lives to tell the tale, then you have probably missed the bigger story line.
In the 1st & 2nd chapters of Jonah, the story gets tumultuous. Jonah, in rebellion against God, ventures out to sea with a group of sailors who were unaware he was on the run. Chaos ensues. The waters turn. The sailors fear. They try to get control – and when they can’t – they really, really fear. It says they were “exceedingly afraid”.
C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled “The Screwtape Letters”. It is the dialogue of two demons. The older demon, Screwtape, is writing to his nephew, Wormwood, mentoring him on how to snare new Christians. Screwtape says this to his eager pupil,
Throughout the Bible, in the Jonah story and many others like it, the Biblical writers use the metaphor of a tumultuous sea to illustrate our fear of things we can’t control.
And there is a being in this world – the Enemy – that wants you to live in the metaphor. Perpetually overwhelmed. Exceedingly afraid.
But as Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
You have the power to choose if you are going to live in the metaphor or if you are going to believe that God has something better for you than constant chaos.
Both the sailors and Jonah take a look at the fork in the road and risk on God. The result? The sailors find faith in God and Jonah realizes that he can’t pretend to know better than God. He says so in chapter 2, verse 8: