In the Darkness of the Whale – Jonah’s Three Days

September 1, 2014

So often we think of darkness as a bad thing. The term “dark” has even become the catch-all adjective for anything pertaining to tragedy, evil, pessimism, or loneliness.

“O, did you see that movie? …Dark.” or “There’s no hope for the environment.” “That’s dark, man!”

The word dark has been associated with the gloomy and the hopeless.  And yet, times that are dark are a time to find hope, and direction, and even to find our own value.

In the story of Jonah, Jonah is swallowed by the whale. The whale has been provided to give life to a Jonah who would have otherwise drowned.

(To catch you up if you haven’t read the last two weeks: Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh and preach obedience to the Lord. Jonah, however, is just as disobedient and runs. God therefore sends a storm to turn him back to the Lord. Jonah then swan dives into the sea, preferring drowning in his own stuff then listening to the Lord. Our God is a saving and life-giving God though and provides a whale to give Jonah safety. Feeling caught up? Good!)

So Jonah has been swallowed. He is in caught between new life and fish-food. He is in the pitch dark of life struggling in every way. His life has been compromised. He has fled from his faith. His integrity before the Lord, broken. Things are figuratively and literally dark for Jonah in the pitch blackness of a whale that is both savior and captor.

This is a place I have been many times in life, and maybe you can relate. There are times of dark in life – and we shy away from these moments until we are forced into them either by our own choices or by others. One way or another, we eventually find ourselves here.

This is where Jonah is. He is in the dark and he is trapped.

Yet, despite what society says about the dark – that it is hopeless and unfeeling – Jonah’s experience is one of hope and new life.

You see, in the dark, something funny happens.  Your other senses heighten. Smell and sound become more vivid. The sense of touch is remembered as you feel the difference between a door and a wall as a hand guides you down a hallway. In the dark, your eyes begin to adjust. The smallest light turns void into picture. In the dark, we move slower. We have to. We are more aware of our breathing, our thoughts, even who we are – and whose we are. In the dark, we are given the gift of self-awareness and identity. Sometimes, it is only in the dark that we can remember God and that we are indeed God’s.

I imagine this is the realization Jonah has. In the whale, in the dark, in the midst of life and death, we are God’s and God is there for us. In the words of Jonah, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”

Take a moment to read the words of Jonah in chapter two. It’s really worth it.

You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

There are words of a broken person. These are also the words of a hope filled person. They are words of gratitude and healing. They are spoken from the dark and are full of life. A dark place can be intimidating, scary, and seem overwhelming – and God is there. It’s also a place of realization, renewal, and rebirth. This is the gift of the whale for Jonah and for our own lives. It is the gift of darkness. Thanks be to God for in the word’s of Jonah, “Salvation comes from the Lord!” Amen!