Not sure why, but Jonah keeps coming up lately. First it began with a discussion with some people about how a whale couldn’t have possibly swallowed Jonah, therefore we must toss out the entire bible. I gotta tell you, atheism requires a real leap of faith, because flat-out, you have to gamble your entire chance of salvation against your ability to misinterpret a tiny bit of scripture.
So, “I don’t believe in God because a whale is not a fish, it’s a mammal” has got to be one of the silliest things I’ve heard in a while. The literal truth of the whale tale is we really don’t know. Jonah is swallowed by a “behemoth sea creature,” the only words we can really translate that to are “a big fish,” often presumed to be a whale. Jonah may have been swallowed by a giant cracken of the sort that eats pirate ships for all I know.
So now we have Jonah in the belly of a giant cracken, which really makes no difference to me because the precise nature of the beast that swallowed Jonah is not really the story at all. Which leads me to garden fairies, yes garden fairies, because no one can tell a proper whale tale with a cracken and a pirate ship, without adding some garden fairies to it.
The garden fairies must enter our story, because as everyone knows non belief is a rational, logical, resistance to believing in anything you haven’t been provided absolute proof of. Like garden fairies, except you sure don’t see me running around investing all my time in trying to disprove the existence of garden fairies. I don’t demand proof of garden fairies at all. In fact, I have absolutely no evidence that they don’t exist therefore it would be completely illogical for me to try to claim they don’t. Even more insane for me to demand they show themselves or I’ll just refuse to believe in them and that will teach them a lesson.
So Jonah for those who don’t know, is a man called by God to go speak to a city full of people he doesn’t really like. Jonah being man after my own heart, promptly disobeys, and decides to hide from God by pretty much stowing away on a ship, a bit unlike a pirate ship, but close enough. Naturally the ship is heading in the precise opposite direction God wants him to go, when an epic storm comes up. Epic. It threatens to drown them all. The sailors pray and toss weight overboard and cast lots trying to decide what to do. Finally they come to the conclusion that the storm will stop if they just throw Jonah overboard. That is also evidence that Jonah is a man after my own heart, because people coming together, casting lots, and deciding to toss me overboard is a frequent theme in my life.
They promptly throw Jonah overboard, the storm stops, and before Jonah can drown, a whale swallows him up. Or a behemoth. Or a really big fish. Or perhaps even a cracken, but certainly not a bunch of garden fairies. Jonah spends 3 days in the whale, just as Jesus spends 3 days in the tomb. At the end of 3 days, the whale spits Jonah out on dry land. Actually, the behemoth “vomits him out,” which sounds absolutely awful. Jonah goes to Nineveh and begins speaking to the people there and they believe God, they listen to Jonah and they begin to repent.
There is great debate as to why the people listened. No one really knows for sure. Perhaps God prepared their hearts. Some have theorized that Jonah may have looked rather scary after spending 3 days in the stomach of a fish. Perhaps the acids bleached him white. Maybe he was shriveled up like a prune. Maybe he was covered in seaweed and starting to grow barnacles all over his head. We aren’t quite sure, but the point is, when Jonah finally obeyed God, people listened.
“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.“
Jonah is actually angry at the Lord’s compassion for the people of Nineveh and says the equivalent of, ” just kill me now.” Jonah is once again a man after my own heart, as in He is not enthusiastic about God’s plan, God’s will, or God’s compassion for a group of people Jonah does not particularly like. I get the impression Jonah would much prefer that God just smote the Ninevehites and let him watch.
There are numerous lessons to be found in the book of Jonah, treasures that reveal themselves in those pages, but what I like is the way God speaks of the fragility of human emotion and reason as a framework for morality. We feel, we reason, and in the heat of the moment we are often convinced we are 100% right. God says to Jonah, “is it right for you to be angry…” And Jonah says, oh yes, “I’m so angry I wish I were dead!” God’s will versus our own will, and naturally we tend to believe our own will have got to be vastly superior, surely more reasonable, more just.
The bible is full of real people just like Jonah, people God deals with compassionately, imperfect people He calls to do His will.
There is something to be learned from the garden fairies, too. Non belief is not the “simple disbelief in gods in light of having no evidence,” Non belief is actually our own cognitive dissonance in action. Our brains know it is irrational to refuse to believe in something we have no evidence does not exist, so we are compelled to constantly go forth and confirm our own biases. That is how we arrive at, “I refuse to believe in God because whales are mammals, not fish.” Just those very words, “I refuse to believe,” indicate a state of resistance. That resistence must be constantly validated, reaffirmed, so our brains will accept that our disbelief is justified, logical, based on hard, empirical data.