This essay of mine appeared recently on Donald Miller’s Storyline blog.
The discussion was clearly resonating with the group. Or at least most of it.
It was a Sunday School class I teach, and the age ranges from kids in high school to people in their 80s. We were talking about Jonah—always a great topic regardless of the age group.
And once we got past the similarities between Jonah’s experience and Pinocchio’s getting swallowed by Monstro, we started looking at some symbolism.
But I noticed one of my friends in the class who looked miserable.
In the Jonah story, I explained that I was drawn to the character’s physical descent.
Think about how low he went. In his misery, he walked down to the dock. He stepped down onto the ship. He stepped down in the lower part of the ship to sleep. And finally, he went down to the bottom of the sea.
Lower, and lower and lower.
He was covered in darkness.
Then we spent some time talking about the word “sea.”
In the Hebrew it stands for “chaos.” It’s the same word used when God began to create—out of the darkness, the abyss, the chaos, something was formed.
So Jonah, just when he thought he couldn’t get any lower, was swallowed by a monster that lived in the chaos.
Just like the miserable friend in my class.
His occupation is that he studies the weather.
A few weeks ago his wife filed for divorce. His life has been chaos ever since.
“I’m a meteorologist,” he said. “I’m supposed to be able to predict storms. I never saw this one coming.”
When we find ourselves in these kinds of conditions, where we are at the bottom of the sea, in the very belly of chaos itself, we make some assumptions.
- One is that there is no way out.
- Another is that we are the worst people ever.
- And another is that God is nowhere to be found—that chaos is a sign of the absence of God.
While I don’t have much insight about the first two, I told the class, I can tell you something about that last assumption.
It’s not true.
If we believe Psalm 139, that there is nowhere God is not, then He’s with us even when things fall apart; He’s in the belly of the chaos with us. Regardless of how it feels at the time, we’re not alone, and God is at work.
I know that it doesn’t feel that way right now for my friend, or maybe for you. Things may seem too messy, too chaotic. The sea has swallowed you. Darkness covers your world.
You didn’t see this particular storm coming. Your predictions were off.
It’s probably how the disciples felt when Jesus died.
But as another friend of mine is fond of saying, “When nothing’s happening, something’s happening.” Monstro gets heartburn. The great fish spits Jonah back on the path. The stone is rolled away.
The dead come alive. Creation begins again.
It doesn’t feel that way for my friend in my class. His wife isn’t coming back.