Then, from inside the fish, Jonah prayed to God:
When I was stressed out, I called on God,
And God answered me.
When my life had gone to hell,
You heard me calling.
You threw me in over over my head,
Into the sea,
Where I was drowning,
The waves and whitecaps
washed me under.
Then I said, I’ve been driven away
Out of sight.
When will I get to see your temple again?
The water devoured me,
Seaweed choked me
At the bottom from which mountains rise.
I arrived in the netherworld
Behind its eternally locked gates.
But you saved me from that pit.
Just as my life was fleeing
I remembered you,
And my prayer arrived in your temple.
People who worship idols
Do themselves in.
But I will, with thanks,
Give you everything I promised.
Upon these words, God directed the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land.
Just about everybody is familiar with Jonah and the whale. (I know, I know, “It’s not a whale, it’s a big fish.”) I wonder how often it’s been used in Sunday School to scare children (like it was used in my childhood Sunday School experience) into accepting other (unrelated) impossible doctrines. “See what God will do to you if you don’t do what God says…”
But that’s not the point at all. The point isn’t to show what God will do if you don’t believe, but what God can do when you do. This poem at the center of the story is about deliverance. When Jonah finally does go where he was supposed to, the result is deliverance.
The point is deliverance. The narrative construction of a big fish story around this poem is to make the point even more sharply: God delivers even from impossible situations.
For some, the idea of God is just as implausible as the story of Jonah and the big fish. But I can’t help but wonder, if the Jonah story were more often taught correctly would there be so many people in that boat?