23rd June 2021

Two biblical stories about the sea caught my attention this week. The first was that of Jonah and the whale (Jonah 1.1–17); the second was that of Jesus calming a storm (Mark 4.35–41). Sunday school favourites.

Jonah was called by God to go to a distant city and preach against their wickedness. Jonah refused and took a ship in the opposite direction. A storm came. He was thrown overboard and was swallowed by a whale. He prayed to God from the belly of the whale and after three days was spewed out onto dry land.

In the gospel story, Jesus was asleep in a boat as his disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee. A storm arose. The fisherman-disciples were terrified and woke Jesus up. Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, “Peace! Be still! Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.”

Two incredible stories (from the Latin incredibilis, impossible to believe). A man living in a whale for three days. A man calming the sea with the sound of his voice.

These tales got me thinking about how we read the Bible. Some stories, such as Jonah and the whale, are most likely fictional. Prophetic visions; parables. The point of the Jonah story lies in what it teaches us about obedience, repentance, and the mercy of God. Other stories are the memories of actual events, passed down from those who witnessed them. The miraculous stories of Jesus, for example. They shake our understanding of the world. With the disciples, we ask one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Ian Waddington