I believe that it’s easy to let our theology keep us from reading the Bible, especially the narrative parts. The Bible is filled with stories. One example is the story of the flood. When Genesis 6 says (using the KJV), “It repenteth me that I have made man,” the first reaction is to try to explain how God didn’t really repent, thus preserving doctrines of omniscience expressed particularly in foreknowledge. A vigorous desire to preserve one’s theology can prevent one from hearing the story as it is actually told.
Jonah is just such a story. It’s very easy to make this a story about obeying God. The story was explained to me when I was a child as an illustration of the bad things that could happen to you if you went against God’s will. Another lesson, often taught at the same time, is that God can and does work miracles. Many people have seen belief in the whale (really more like “great fish”) as a test of one’s belief in the truth of scripture.
But to spend our time on the reality of the great fish, whether to disparage the idea or uphold it, is to stray from the story.
I’ve been delighted to publish a couple of books by Bruce Epperly that deal with Bible stories from a less theologically defensive position. Bruce tends to let the stories speak and as such he gets lessons from them that we might otherwise miss. A few months ago we released Ruth and Esther: Women of Agency and Adventure. I commend that study to you.
This week we released another book about stories, Jonah: When God Changes. Just the subtitle is likely to unsettle a few people. I think it’s good to be unsettled. I think that Jonah was unsettling when it was first written and it was intended to be.
We often have to work hard to love and care for people who are actually very similar to us. We tend to discount the command of Jesus to love our enemies. But in Jonah we have a call to love people we now hate—and with good reason!—and to take God’s message to them. While Jonah’s message sounds like a “fire and brimstone” sermon, it becomes a call to salvation, just as Jonah feared it would (read the last chapter)!
Bruce really works this little book and calls to our attention things we might normally miss in pursuit of theological comfort. I suggest that you give up that comfort and read the book!
We’ll have it for $4.19 pre-order pricing (even though it’s already printing) on Energion Direct. We’ll keep that up through Labor Day. Find a couple of other books to go with it so your order is at least $9.99 and you’ll get free shipping.