Personal/Pastoral Confession: I Have Had Trouble Believing Sometimes

JonahI wonder who will approach me and what they will say over the next few days and weeks concerning this blog. On the other hand, hopefully many people who share my struggle will be encouraged.

As a person first and as a pastor second, I confess that there are times I have had a very difficult time believing some of the stories in the Old Testament. Of my three degrees, two are in Philosophy, which teaches me to question everything. Thank you Socrates and Bertrand Russell. Yet, this is something worth the weight of gold in questioning. What is it? That which lies on the other side: something more profound and owned with all one’s being.

Granted, Jesus tells to be like children. Children believe things easily. The 19th century Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, wrote of a 14 year boy who just had the ability to believe. I wish I was that 14 year old boy, but most often, I am not. At the same time, what I HATE is this idea that is quite often perpetuated in the church that to have faith like Jesus means committing intellectual suicide. I meet some people who I have wondered if they have wrestled with anything at all in the Scriptures. I want to end up with a mind and a heart!

So, let me be specific for a moment. The story of Jonah and the whale. God tells Jonah to go preach to the Ninevites. He rebels, gets tossed overboard, and then is swallowed by a fish of some sorts (the Hebrew does not necessarily imply whale; some think it was a shark due to digestive reasons). He somehow stays alive for three days and nights before the the fish vomits him up on the shores of Nineveh. At this point, why not be faithful? Jonah was there anyways. So he preached and the people he did not want to see revived ended up repenting. Crazy, huh? That is another blog/sermon in and of itself.

To a modern, scientifically-influenced mind, this seems preposterous, even offensive. We know better, right? Or do we? In recent decades, there has been a huge push to reinterpret some of these radical Old Testament stories as myths intended to convey spiritual lessons (e.g. Splitting of the Red Sea; Jonah’s story; the fiery furnace in Daniel; etc.). In other words, they are to be read and understood metaphorically as opposed to literally.

But, if you are a follower of Jesus that believes that the Scriptures are from God, then let me share something that made me stop today. Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40). Jesus undeniably referenced this story in the Old Testament as a historical event, not a metaphor for some spiritual lesson. Do not discount or minimize this. Jesus himself left no doubt with his words that this was something that really happened in human history. This isn’t exactly a philosophically flavored apologetic argument in defense of this particular Old Testament even being historical, nevertheless, it really struck me with great force today. Jesus said this was historical. He, the Son of God, was telling us how to interpret this past event: literally, not metaphorically. Is some faith required? Oh, ABSOLUTELY YES! But let me say one more things that helps me believe.

Is not the foundation of our Christian faith rooted in the historical claim that Jesus left God’s right hand in Heaven, was born into the world through a normal woman, never sinned, died on a cross, and then was raised from the dead? This was actually part of what He was referring too when He referenced the historical event of Jonah. We believe all of this, the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the miracles, the death, and then the supernatural Resurrection, but the story of Jonah is too much? I don’t think so. Don’t try to make yourself believe the story of Jonah. Rather, look at Christ, remind yourself what we believe about Him, and then believing the story of Jonah (or one similar) will seem like small potatoes.

If Jesus interpreted the Old Testament as historical, then I can too. This really increased my faith today! Nothing like the Word of God to replace unbelief with faith. As Paul wrote, “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17). Jesus really is the ultimate apologist. He has a way of touching the mind and heart.

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5 thoughts on “Personal/Pastoral Confession: I Have Had Trouble Believing Sometimes

  1. The problem with taking Jesus’ reference to Jonah’s voyage inside the fish as literal, is that in Mark 4:31, Jesus also says that mustard seeds are “the smallest of all seeds.” We know that factually this is wrong. There are several different kinds of seeds that are smaller than a mustard seed. How should we interpret Jesus’ words then? Just bc Jesus references something as fact or historical does not mean he necessarily belived that, but was probably working within the common thoughts of the people of the time. That’s not to say one can’t interpret the OT historically, but using Jesus here might not be the best way to go about it.

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    1. Thanks Brandon for your response. As usual, thought provoking. You referencing Jesus’ comment on the seed made me go dig a bit.

      The NIV Life Application Bible Commentary said, “Jesus compared this beginning [talking about the Kingdom of God] to the mustard seed, which was the smallest seed a farmer used. Though the mustard seed is not the smallest seed in all of creation, it was the smallest known seed at that time. Some have tried to use the fact that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed as an argument against the accuracy of the Bible. Jesus was not making a scientific statement. HE was showing the relative size of a large plant growing from a small seed…”

      The New American Commentary: “The mustard seed was not the smallest seed in Palestine, but it was one of the smaller and was proverbial for smallness.”

      Brandon, I felt these commentaries were in the same conceptual neighborhood as your comments. I do want to remind you that I wrote that I was aware that my position was not at all a “philosophically flavored apologetic argument.” Obviously Jesus did not have his facts wrong. He knew that by referencing the mustard seed, his audience would automatically understand just how “small” he was referring too. I actually really like how you ended your comment: “That’s not to say one can’t interpret the OT historically, but using Jesus here might not be the best way to go about it.” Yet, I do feel that Jesus was absolutely endorsing a historical interpretation of Jonah. For me, I believe you have to intellectually try much harder to interpret his comments as non-historical than historical. I agree that there might be other ways to go about defending the historicity of the Old Testament, but I do still believe that this passage is rather persuasive. Thanks Brandon for making me think!

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  2. Hm, maybe even God told the occasional “fish tale”. Haha jk, man. I would say God knew not everybody is capable of blind Faith at all times, so it’s no wonder he would lead some of his Believers to be philosophers so that they could more easily relate to non-believers who question things like this. Good read man

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