December 16, 2015

Jonah, the Whale and You

Whale - Jacques de Villiers

I was reading about Jonah and the whale as one does when Stephen King starts to get boring. You know the story. God commands Jonah to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh.

Jonah wasn’t keen on this. First, the city was known for its wickedness. Second, it was the capital of the Assyrian empire, one of Israel’s fiercest enemies.

So, Jonah bolted and fled on a ship to Tarshish, in the opposite direction of Nineveh. God sent a violent storm which threatened to break the ship into pieces. The crew tossed Jonah overboard to appease God and he ended up in the belly of a whale (or fish). The sea calmed and they were saved. After three days in the whale he was spat up on the dry land of Nineveh. After lots of gnashing of teeth and praying, I might add.

He then preached to Nineveh. And saved its people from a terrible trauma that God had planned for them. Everyone was happy. Jonah not so much … but I think he was a miserable character to start with.

The story plays out like the The Hero’s Journey by American Mythologist, Joseph Campbell.

Loosely and not quite in the correct order, here’s how the Hero’s (Jonah’s) Journey plays out:

  • Call to adventure – preach repentance to citizens of Nineveh.
  • Refusal of the call – get the heck out of there and head for Trashish.
  • Adventure – ship almost sinks in storm.
  • More adventure – thrown overboard.
  • Adventure/salvation – land in mouth of whale.
  • Dark night of the soul – how’s he going to get out of the whale? Is he going to get out of the whale?
  • Salvation – whale spits him out onto dry land after three days.
  • Heed the call – listen to God and go and pray for the citizens of Nineveh.
  • Climax – saves Nineveh by finally obeying God’s call.

(You’ve seen this in the Hobbit, Star Wars and practically any movie where the hero is called to action).

My interpretation of the Jonah story is a bit different to my Sunday School teacher’s one. Either way, I think the story of Jonah has relevance to all our lives.

Some of us know what our calling is. But we refuse to heed the call. We stay where we are. That’s when we end up in all sorts of misadventures which steer us back to our calling. For Jonah, God’s purpose for him could not be denied. God tracked him and made sure he followed his calling. Your purpose also cannot be denied. It will be like ‘God’ … always following you until you decide to heed the call to adventureAnd, even when you find your calling, the adventures don’t stop. Sometimes you’ll falter and think that you made a big mistake (dark night of the soul).

Of course the trick is to figure out what your calling is. Sometimes it’s foisted on you (just when things were going so well). Sometimes you have an idea about where you should be going but you ignore the call (refusal of call).

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell

You’re actually lucky if you get a calling and figure out how to follow it. Because most men as Henry David Thoreau so eloquently puts it, “… lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

That which makes your heart sing and that which calls you is seldom an easy journey. But, it’s a necessary journey if you are to make something of this life you have chosen to live out on this planet.

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3 Comments on “Jonah, the Whale and You

Peter Barker
December 16, 2015 at 7:46 pm

We will put you on plan son. In the Methodist church that means we will steer you on to becoming a lay preacher. Good exegesis with a practical application for the every person.

Jacques de Villiers
December 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm

Hey Peter. I suppose having a pastor for a father, it kinda runs in the blood. Of course, I’m going to look up ‘exegesis’ 😉

Willem Husselmann
February 3, 2016 at 5:08 pm

Hi Jacques, I resently found a good definition for purpose; Purpose is found where the NEED of the world(usually your world) is met by your TALENT(S). That will give you PURPOSE.


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