Friday, May 7, 2010

Chained for Good: Jonah

A long time ago I remember hearing a preacher tell a story about a guy in the late 1800's, in English waters, who fell off a ship called the "Star of the East" and was swallowed by a whale.  According to the story, the poor guy had very light skin the rest of his life as a result of the whale's gastric acid which bleached him.  The story was told to show that yes, in fact, something as amazing as Jonah's story could be true.  The unfortunate guy who was whale chum was named James Bartley.  The story (see one version here) has been told in many sermons through the years and is still a common one today for preachers who desperately seek a hook to make the more amazing bible stories a bit easier to swallow (insert groan here).

The trouble is, the Bartley story isn't true.  The best that historical sleuths  have been able to come up with is that the story was fabricated soon after an actual whale was beached and died near the shore town of Gorleston England.   The thirty-footer was rather famous and lots of stories circulated about it - including the Bartley story.  Eventually, an ambitious taxidermist stuffed the whale and it was displayed in the London Westminster Aquarium.  But James Bartley was not found inside.

I'll leave it up to you to decide whether the Jonah story is historically accurate or mythic.  I don't have a problem with it being true.  If God can create big fish -  and you and me - out of a single cell and puff his breath into us to make us alive, then it can't be that hard for him to give a fish a hankering for a Jonah snack and keep the rebel alive for a few days.  "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" the Psalmist says.

What's odd to me is that we squabble over the truth of whether Jonah could live in a fish, but we don't blink an eyelash at how the Ninevites repsond when Jonah shows up.  Jonah delivers the "turn or burn" message and they . . . turn.  Huh?  The arch-enemies of Israel who follow a smorgasbord of other gods drop everything, fast, pray, repent and turn to God because some reluctant fishy smelling loudmouth tells them they're going to fry if they don't turn to God?  Seriously?  How great of a miracle is that?  That's a story that we should cause us to think, "Wow, what sort of a God is this?"

On Sunday we'll think about such amazing truths and hoist more treasure from the depths of Jonah's tale.  In the meantime, Netflix has the VeggieTales version streaming online . . .
- Curtis