Jonah And The Whale
|Do not get involved in the
literalism versus liberalism struggle that has disrupted Christianity
for the last hundred or so years. On the one hand the literalists
maintain one should believe everything in the Bible. That is ridiculous
since the Bible contains songs, stories, poems, genealogies,
illustrative stories and parables never meant to be taken literally. On
the other hand the liberals get a big kick out of "debunking." They
believe little, if any, of much of the Bible. Many liberals don't
believe in God or personal morality anyway.
Now my point is that both sides in this inane controversy are off base and off brand. Neither side takes up the important point, which is: What is the spiritual point of the teaching? Now whatever is at question may have happened, but who really cares? The people writing the Bible
were trying to get spiritual messages across. They are to be taken first on a spiritual level. The question always is: not what is the scientific, literal, historical, anthropological meaning, but what is the spiritual meaning.
Both sides claim to be part of a church whose religious message is spiritual, but what are both sides arguing about? Certainly not about the true spiritual meaning of the Bible but about whether whatever occurred was literal or not literal. Really, who cares? Who can really know? Why does it matter? These things are not worth the breath and energy it takes to argue about them. The real question is: what is the spiritual point the writers were trying to get across? They were writing a spiritual book intended to be read for the spiritual points.
The one I really laugh at is the controversy over whether the whale swallowed Jonah. The idea of the Jonah narrative is that Jonah was supposed to preach repentance in the ancient city of Ninevah. He did not want to, but tried to run away from God, and suffered many mishaps in running away from God. One of these mishaps was to have been held several days in the belly of a whale. Finally Jonah gives up his will to God and goes back to Ninevah to preach. There he preached repentance and the people there did repent.
Whether the whale swallowed Jonah or not is completely irrelevant to the meaning of the story which is: don't run away from God's will. The idea is if you run away from what is God's will for you, you will suffer. If you have the sense (Jonah did) to stop fighting God's will and do what God asks (preaching to the city) then what God has planned for you to do will work out. What worked out was Ninevah repented and turned
to God. (The repentance of Ninevah is the miracle and moral of the story, not any whale business.).
The whole argument about the whale is so out of place, off the point, absolutely irrelevant. I suggest the people arguing over this point just want to let off some free floating hostility and have decided to use this story to blow off steam and argue. It's like people decided that they wanted to argue what is irrelevant instead of what is spiritual.
You will notice the argument over the whale is entirely off the moral, spiritual or didactic point the Old Testament writer is trying to make. I mean this irrelevant arguing is how some modern day religious people spend their time in the churches avoiding God as they fight about irrelevant and off the wall issues. How does this help anyone grow spiritually? Or service the Kingdom of God?
What I suggest about the story of Jonah and the whale is that the whole argument business is a waste of time. Time and energy that might have been better spent on the Kingdom of God or serving others has been wasted. Arguments generally do not help anyone, but increase
an argumentative attitude about off wall issues. The Western Church has had enough of that.
This is a symptom of a great problem in the Western Christian Churches, you know. The churches can't stay on the Christian point, the spiritual level, the real issue. In an attempt to get away from God not unlike Jonah running way from preaching, these argument prone Christians diddle around arguing about irrelevant issues.
The history of the Western Christian Churches has often been a deep involvement with off the wall issues. Often they involve non-important issues of creed. Why? Because so many Christians have enough religion to fight over, but not enough to live by. This means they
have a degenerate non-spiritual religion centered on non-important issues of creed or something like it. Rather than having a real religion that includes an honest and growing relationship with God or
Jesus Christ, they argue, as they did in Medieval limes, whether the Holy Ghost preceded from God the Father or God the Son. Really, who cares? Let's get practical. Let's get it on a spiritual level. Let's get a right sense of priorities. Let's use better values.
I am convinced that as far as Christianity goes in our world today, much of its time effort and money is spent on non-essential issues, fake causes and silly arguments that don't touch anyone's real spiritual needs. This involves our all too usual Christianity that voids or avoids the real issues of a relationship with Christ. Instead they say let's get intellectual and argumentative and non-transcendent.
I suggest one of the real desires of really shallow church goers is to take part in the life of a church but get away from God. They get away from God and any real religion by avoiding spiritual issues or attitudes and any work with real meaning. They often dispute irrelevant nonsense like the whale. They tend to demonize those who might disagree with them on irrelevant issues.
Remember true religion is to be centered on spiritual things. That means a relationship and awareness of Christ. Do try to stay focused on spiritual points and seeking for spiritual understanding. Beware of going off on side issues of which there are an endless amount. (Example when the preacher talks of furthering Christ, don't bring up how the church needs to enlarge the parking lot.)
I would not have you consider being either literal or liberal. Both are on a pretty flat level. Neither speak to the spiritual point or show understanding of the spiritual level. I suggest that, instead of being literal or liberal, you be spiritual.
A Christian should not be either liberal or literal. Good Christians should not lock themselves into two flatly opposing one dimensional mind sets when the needed plane of understanding is a transcending spiritual view that falls in neither the literal camp or the liberal camp. I say, a plague on both their houses.
A good Christian should not be either literal or liberal. He or she should be diligently searching for the true spiritual meaning. In all things look for the spiritual meaning, and pray that you may perceive it, and then do the right spiritual thing, which will come nearest to catching the balanced judgment of Christ.
So lay aside your literalism and lay aside your liberalism, and seek, as much as you may, to have that spiritual judgment needed for our day and time.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.