Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Jonah and the Whale, by Hilda Katz, Smithsonian American Art Museum, c.1960
Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly, And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
— Jonah 2:1-2
Jonah sunk to new depths, literally. I sometimes feel I have been there too, figuratively, inside the belly of a whale. It is the dark place we find ourselves in when all hope seems lost, and when, as in Jonah's case, there is nowhere left to run. Jonah was given time—three days and three nights to be precise1—to contemplate his situation. It was only after this long period of time that he then prays. It seems that for seventy-two hours, despite his situation Jonah is still reluctant to turn towards God, still considers death a viable option.
My resonance with this story comes from my own experience of heroin and alcohol addiction, and the stories I have witnessed in recovery groups around the world. Shockingly, a person at such depths of despair, even when offered a way out, can still be reluctant to take it. Many don't make it. I only hear the stories of those that do. Jonah had sinned, he had endangered the lives of others, was being asked to do something that struck fear into his heart, and now he had this short, dark reprieve. It was almost easier to stay there and give up. I know the feeling.
Jonah's prayer may have come from a change of mind, but more likely it was a God-given prayer. God had work for Jonah to do, so He drew out from Jonah this desperate prayer. Because I was loved I was drawn out of my own dark place. It looked like human intervention, and it was, but there was also a hint of divinity about it—or so I like to believe. I am not unique; for each of us there is work to be done. Death is not an option until it becomes an inevitability. Jonah was rescued, and given a second chance to fulfil God's request. Rescued, but not yet redeemed. Redemption takes longer, and it takes work.2
1 Jonah 1:17
2 For an interesting take on redemption in the story of Jonah, read Jonah, Pinocchio & You by Rabbi Benjamin Edidin Scolnic