For reasons that I would not like to examine too closely, Jonah has always been my favourite prophet. It is a book to read while sulking. A space to wait till God’s laughter becomes my own.
And I haven’t been reading it lately (before you all jump to conclusions). But I have been reading James Alison’s Faith Beyond Resentment, which made me think again about that great whale. Alison says this, of Jonah’s fish-failed drowning:
Jonah had thought he was plunging to his death. There must have been something of relief in his descent. At last it was all over. But it was not. Unknown to him, while he thought he had engineered his death, setting it up so as to avoid finding himself in the presence of the Lord, God had a different idea. His plan was to tag along while Jonah would not allow himself to be reached, and then, when he had plunged into the deep, to hold him in being while he was devoured by all that tumultuous fear, hatred, and darkness which had glowered beneath the surface of his faith. The great fish is nothing other than God holding Jonah in being in the midst of the darkness and fear…
I imagine the great fish to have been transparent, so that Jonah was not aware for a good part of those three days and nights that he was anything other than being lost, utterly swept away by forces whose swirling he had always dreaded. He could see and feel the darkness, and yet not be aware that, in the midst of that, he was being stitched together, reached, held at a depth which he had been unable to imagine.
The wisdom of pastoral counseling and spiritual direction has always been to stay with the darkness, not to flee. But Alison has now given me an image to hold onto — a whale shaped space in which to wait, and to encourage others to wait, for God.
Faith Beyond Resentment is the most interesting bit of theology I’ve read in a long time. I keep reading thinking, ‘this is all so obvious, so true. Why have I never heard it said this way before?’