I am not sure if an imagination is supposed to come into play when reading the Bible. After all, have you ever been in the middle of communicating a thought when the person to whom you were speaking began to inject his or her views and conclusions into your tale? Invariably, when the listener becomes the speaker, the story can have a dramatically different outcome. I absolutely don’t want to do that to God’s narrative.
The scriptures are inspired, inerrant, and infallible. They serve as the rule of faith and practice. They were fully authoritative as they were given by God through verbal inspiration and have been kept pure by His providential care. I believe that. I hold to that basic tenet of Christianity.
Yet, on the heels of that catechism’s declaration, I must confess that I cannot shut down my imagination when reading Bible stories. Suffice it to say that I endeavor only to supply fictional background to the adventures of the biblical characters rather than to change the heart of intent of our Father’s immutable truth. (How’s that for a disclaimer to what I am about to do?)
Have you ever tried to visualize the tale of Jonah and the fish? What a whale of a story we could build! Securing his freedom from the will of God (or so he thought), Jonah set sail on a ship heading in direct opposition from where God told him to go. A storm ensued and Jonah ended up overboard. Surely somewhere in those less than ideal circumstances our traveler must have begun to question if his choice to go AWOL on God had been correct.
Perhaps Jonah’s arms were flailing wildly as he searched for a piece of wood or some debris to help him stay afloat. Under a dark sky and in the black sea, the pounding rain and rough waves would have assailed him. Surely, he squinted his eyes as he attempted to survey his plight and find his salvation. What happened next? Did something brush his leg? With a pounding heart, did he frantically pivot back and forth to discover what creature of the sea might be lurking? Did Stephen Spielberg’s soundtrack from Jaws begin to echo in his ears?
There it was – his passage back to the will of God. Oh, I doubt if Jonah actually thought that to himself when the huge fish finally came into focus. I doubt if worship and faith were his initial responses. He probably wasn’t even delighting in the fact that some day he would have the biggest fish story of them all!
In one gulp, the sea monster swallowed up the preacher. The dimly lighted sky disappeared and all that remained was utter darkness. The smell of sea air changed to the pungent odor of dead fish. The sound of the storm was muffled while his screams of terror amplified in the echo chamber of the creature’s belly.
Three days of hopelessness. Three days of prayer. Three days of self-reflection. Three days of repentance. And all the while, the fish was traveling in the direction that God had told Jonah to go. Amazingly enough, just about the time that Jonah got his heart straight, the fish arrived at Jonah’s port of call. The fish must have decided that this one was too small to keep because he threw him back into the water.
Emerging onto the shores of Nineveh, gastric-juice-bleached skin and all, Jonah preached with such personal conviction that the town was converted. He must have told one fish story that everyone believed.