Gut Feeling

repentance

But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)

Spending three days in the belly of a fish can change a guy. There’s just something about the cramped quarters, the smell of briny stomach acid, the cold clammy feel of an ichthysian intestinal wall, and the sloshing, partially digested remains of your host’s previous meal that makes you think hard about things. Even a hardcore milksop can get religion down there.

It takes a major infraction to end up in a fish. You don’t get deep-throated for leaving the toilet lid up. Jonah was definitely AWOL—but who could blame him? God jumps him and commands him to “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” Now badmouthing a handful of backwater hayseeds is one thing (though it still could get you killed), but Nineveh was no podunk one-bar farm town. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, an “exceeding great city of three days’ journey,” with a circumference of about 62 miles. There were around 120,000 people living there at the time. We’re talking big freaking city here. And Jonah’s supposed to read this place the riot act? Sheesh. No wonder he blew town.

But when it comes to God, you can run but you can’t hide. He can find you, order up a storm, arrange to have you tossed overboard, and send a fish to swallow you whole then puke your yellow butt back on shore. This experience would have a profound effect on anybody. (I accidentally got my hand stuck in a jar once. I wanted to see if I could get it in, which I did. Getting it out was a different matter. For one thing, I didn’t want anybody to see what a stupid thing I had done so I couldn’t ask for help. I didn’t want to smash the jar either, blood not being my favorite thing to look at, especially if it’s my own. Eventually I was able to twist my hand hard enough to pop it out. It hurt like heck, let me tell you. Since then I’ve only tried that stunt again a couple more times. I’m not stupid, you know.) By the time Jonah was spit, bleached and haggard, back on land, there probably wasn’t much fight left in him. Fact is, he probably didn’t care anymore whether he got killed at Nineveh or not, though the fish smell most likely kept everybody at a safe distance and may have saved his keister.

The whole thing goes to show that when God decides he wants you for something there aren’t many viable alternatives. It basically comes down to obey or suck gut juice. God doesn’t seem to give two hoots for how crappy the job is. To him it’s all the same. You either do what he says or make yourself at home in somebody’s gastrointestinal tract. Not that it makes the decision any easier. God comes up with some pretty wacko employment opportunities, and some of them make a few days hanging with Nemo and friends seem not such a bad deal by comparison. Eventually, though, God usually wins out. A guy can take only so much submersion before he starts reevaluating his situation.

One thing’s for sure: God definitely knows how to extract repentance when he wants it. Waterboarding should work so well.

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