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.