I was drowning, but I didn’t know it. I was also unaware that I was about to be rescued by the yawning jaws of a man-eating fish.
Through the whole ordeal I would discover that drowning is easy, but the process of being rescued can be exceedingly hard.
The picture of drowning and rescue came to me when I looked at the prophet Jonah and saw my own story in his.
God gave a message to Jonah and directed him to deliver it his enemies, the wicked Assyrians. Jonah didn’t like his mission and chose not to accept it. So, instead of heading to the Assyrian’s capital city of Nineveh, Jonah boarded the first ship headed someplace else.
Jonah’s escape plan hit a snag when a severe storm came up that threatened to break the ship into pieces. The crew discovered that Jonah was personally responsible for the terrible tempest and, at God’s direction, and Jonah’s insistence, they threw Jonah overboard. The crew was now safe and in worshipful awe. But Jonah was in great peril and in an awful panic. As his body sank into the sea, his cries went up to highest heaven.
God answered Jonah’s cries and intervened, but in a most unconventional way.
“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
God’s “answer” looked like an even exchange–one death sentence for another. But while he was trapped in the belly of the fish, rather than anxiously petitioning God for deliverance; Jonah was thankfully acknowledging God’s deliverance.
Jonah understood that God didn’t send the hungry fish to harm him, but to rescue him. That’s where I saw myself in the story. I remember thinking, “That’s me!–saved out of the sea and into the fish.”
For years I had been unconsciously drowning in a sea of religious insecurity, pulled downward by the currents of my past, and tangled up in the seaweed of my coping mechanisms. I lacked the buoyancy of a healthy self-understanding and the life-line of a healthy God-understanding. I was sinking.
Then God appointed a sea monster to swallow me alive, a man-eating season of trial and difficulty that has been exceedingly hard to endure. How big is this fish? It’s 7-years-long and growing. And sometimes it feels like it weighs 10,000 pounds. But I’m writing this from the fish’s belly with a thankful heart. Like Jonah, I understand now that God didn’t send the fish to destroy me, but to deliver me.
Although Jonah had been ingested by the fish, he must have had assurance he wouldn’t be digested by the fish. The fish’s belly was not Jonah’s end, but a new beginning. That’s just how I see my own life.
Through the great fish of trial, God has been progressively liberating me by means of my ongoing captivity. He has been teaching me, and I have been learning, how to live with God—alertly, attentively, dependently, cooperatively—while in the belly of this fish.
How about you? Do you have your own fish story?