Rob Bell has started a series on his blog robbell.com titled “What Is the Bible?” (Not to be confused with Phil Vischer’s excellent DVD series for kids, “What’s In The Bible?”) As I write this, Rob has 14 chapters posted, and I do admit to having no idea where he’s going and what he’s going to say next. Are we getting a preview of a future book manuscript? If so, I’m saving the chapters just in case.
In parts 3 and 4, he looks at the Jonah story. Here’s a brief excerpt from part four:
…What do I think? I don’t think it matters what you believe about a man being swallowed by a fish.
If you don’t believe it literally happened, that’s fine. Lots of people of faith over the years have read this story as a parable about national forgiveness. They point to many aspects of the surreal nature of the story as simply great storytelling because the author has a larger point, one about the Israelites and the Assyrians and God’s call to be a light to everyone, especially your enemies.
Right on. Well said.
Just one problem. Some deny the swallowed-by-a-fish part not from a literary perspective, but on the basis of those things just don’t happen. Which raises a number of questions: What’s the criteria for the denial? Do we only affirm things that can be proven in a lab? Do we only believe things we have empirical evidence for? Do we believe or not believe something happened based on…whether we believe that things like that happen or not? (That was an awkward sentence. Intentionally.) Can we only affirm things that make sense to us? Are we closed to everything that we can’t explain?
If we reject all miraculous elements of all stories because we have made up our mind ahead of time that such things simply aren’t possible, we run the risk of shrinking the world down to what we can comprehend. And what fun is that?
That said, there are others who say, Of course he was swallowed a fish, that’s what the story says happened!
Just one problem. It’s possible to affirm the literal fact of a man being swallowed by a fish, making that the crux of the story in such a way that you defend that, believe that, argue about that-and in spending your energies on the defend-the-fish-part miss the point of the story, the point about allowing God’s redeeming love to flow through us with such power and grace that we are able to love and bless even our worst enemies…