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Jonah and the Night Journey


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The story of Jonah and the Whale is complex. It leads us to ask: where is God in suffering? When Jonah is sitting in the pitch dark in his whale, with only the smell of decomposing fish for company, a long, long way from the light of the sun, he sang a psalm of both lament and praise. Is God somehow active in the dark night of the soul?


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Jonah and the Night Journey

  1. 1. Jonah and the Whale*
  2. 2. * Yes, I know the text says “fish”. Don’t be a dull pedant.
  3. 3. Gratitude For what are you grateful?
  4. 4. Jonah and the Whale
  5. 5. Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god…. He said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.’ So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. But the LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Jonah 1:1-3a, 4-5a, 12,15,17
  6. 6. Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me… Then the LORD spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land. Jonah 2:1-3, 10
  7. 7. The Night Journey Out of control, a long, long way from the light of the sun. The journey of suffering and grief takes you away from where you wanted to go. Is God absent?
  8. 8. The Word of the Lord Does God send suffering to people?
  9. 9. Christological Theology Whatever we can say of Jesus, we can say of God.
  10. 10. Suffering Is God present in situations of suffering?
  11. 11. Traumatic Suffering The overwhelming of three domains of our being-in-the- world The first is that the world is a meaningful and coherent whole and not a basket of coincidences. The second is that the world is benevolent toward us and not inclined to do us harm. The third is that I am a person worthy of care and love. Tedeschi & Calhoun
  12. 12. Transformation Can suffering lead to transformation?
  13. 13. “exposure to major life crises does indeed increase the risk of developing psychiatric problems…. we have been finding that reports of growth experiences in the aftermath of traumatic events far outnumber reports of psychiatric disorders." The five domains of posttraumatic growth are: greater appreciation of life and changed sense of priorities; warmer, more intimate relationships with others; a greater sense of personal strength; recognition of new possibilities or paths for one's life; and spiritual development. A surprising discovery about these five domains is that they can co-exist with ongoing suffering. Tedeschi & Calhoun
  14. 14. Theological Framework Dorothy Soelle 1. Silent, inarticulate – The Ocean 2. Psalmic – The psalm in the whale 3. Action – Preaching the word in Nineveh
  15. 15. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.
  16. 16. Go in peace; may you carry God’s Wisdom, speak forth God’s Word, and embody God’s Presence wherever you are. In the name of Christ. Amen.
  17. 17. References • Sölle, Dorothee. Suffering. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975. • Tedeschi, Richard G. and Lawrence G. Calhoun. "Posttraumatic Growth: Conceptual Foundations and Empirical Evidence." Psychological Inquiry 15, no. 1 (2004): 1-18. .