Is Jonah Just a Story?
Twenty years ago I joined a couples Bible study group and I heard something that made me go huh?
At the time I was a Christian, but I knew little about the Bible. There was a young man in the group who I knew was a PK, a preacher's kid. He had told us they were considering hiring him on staff at our church. I assumed because this man was a preacher's kid, went to church every week, and might be on staff at the church that he knew more than I did. Actually I assumed just about everyone in the group knew more than I did. I was there to learn.
One night he said to us that his son learned about Jonah and the fish in the children's ministry that day. On the way home from church his son asked him if it really happened. And this man told him, no, that it was just a story in the Bible.
Huh? My mind immediately started going a mile a minute. How does he know it's not true? Because it seems impossible to have happened? What is the criteria to decide if a biblical account is true or just a "story" like a parable? What am I missing? Does he know something I don't? If Jonah being swallowed by a fish for three days isn't true, then what else isn't true?
I really didn't know. And so I asked, (and I feel pretty sure it came off snarky, but I didn't mean it that way - I truly was just asking), "If we don't believe Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and was in the fish's belly for three days; why do we believe in the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus?" And there was silence. I mean you would have heard a pin drop. The guy said, "Well, uh, I guess you have a point." Moments more of silence and then a woman who was on staff at the church said, yes that she believes Jonah and the fish happened just like the virgin birth and the resurrection happened. And then every one seemed to agree yes Jonah probably happened.
Twenty years later I realize it actually was a pretty big milestone in my spiritual journey. I learned a couple things. I believe the biblical accounts happened. I believe the virgin birth and the resurrection of our Lord happened. Both of these events are seemingly impossible to have occurred. They would be miraculous. These are foundational doctrines of the Christian faith.
I also believe Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days, and God parted the Red Sea, that the earth flooded and Noah and his family were spared, that a donkey spoke to Balaam, that Elijah defeated 450 priests of Baal at Mount Carmel, that God provided water and food for the Hebrew people as they wandered the desert for forty years, etc. I can't scientifically prove these things happened. But I believe God can do anything and that he can do the miraculous. Just because we can't explain something or there is no proof doesn't mean it did not happen. Maybe the archeological evidence has not been discovered yet. Maybe the scientific proof has not been discovered yet.
I think the very definition of a miracle is that it can't be explained. I believe in miracles.
There actually is some proof for the resurrection of Christ reported in ancient documents and as evidenced by the early believer's actions, particularly their willingness to die for what they witnessed and testified happened. People don't tend to die for a lie.
I believe all the biblical accounts happened. I can't explain that to you so you will be satisfied they happened. I can explain to you why we know our biblical text is reliable and since it is, why doubt the accounts? I guess it comes down to faith.
Faith is simply belief and trust in God.
I believe the Bible is God's word. The preservation of it and how we have it today is a profound miracle. Therefore, I believe what the Bible says.
This Jonah and the big fish incident made me examine my beliefs. Do I buy the biblical accounts? I do.
It also served another purpose and this lesson took a lot longer to learn. I assumed because this guy was a preacher's kid and had probably gone to church his whole life and probably had training at home that he not only had more knowledge about Christianity than I did, but that my beliefs should be in-line with his and if they weren't than something was wrong with me. I looked at other Christians with that lens or I thought they were looking at me through that lens. It was kind of like a sliding scale - I thought the amount of time he spent doing Christian things equated to him being a mature Christian. I guess I thought he was the "expert" and if he said something, it had to be true. I've found out that is not necessarily the case. You do have to be discerning of things other Christians say.
I know I thought that other Christians were better Christians than I was.
You all, we have got to stop doing that! It is not a competition. The reality is it isn't the length of time you are a Christian that makes you close to God, but the amount you surrender your life to the Lord. This took me awhile to learn. Years. I'm still learning it.
You hear the phrase we are all equal at the foot of the cross. We are. I imagine Billy and Ruth Graham are enjoying being in heaven. As is Mother Teresa, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, Corrie ten Boom, and the many other saints who have gone before us. But I'm going to be there too some day! We are all offered the same gift. What does differ between us is what we do for the kingdom of God while we are here on earth. And I can tell you those people I just mentioned did a whole lot more than I've done. But it doesn't mean God loves them more than me.
And here is the other thing too. You can have a ton of head knowledge about the Bible and still have an ugly hard heart. God cares about the heart. I can tell you after twenty years of studying the Bible, I have a lot of knowledge, but even though my heart has much more love for others, it also still needs some work. Others who know much less about the Bible than I do have great big ginormous hearts that must surely please the Lord.
One little moment in my spiritual journey and I learned I believe the accounts in the Bible happened and you can't judge the spirituality and understanding of another Christian. And we aren't supposed to be concerned in comparing our relationship with God to their relationship with God. It's not a competition with each other. We should focus on our own spiritual walk with Christ rather than comparing ourselves to others. Be kind. Love others. Love God.
What about you? Have you ever really thought about whether you believe the accounts in the Bible really happened? Was Jonah in the belly of a fish for three days? Is that even possible?
Well let me leave you with our Lord's words from Matthew 19:26.
"... with God all things are possible."
And see, I believe that.
Hey, if you want to read more about Jonah, read Ineligible for Forgiveness. There is much more to that biblical account than just a man being swallowed by a great fish.