Jonah At Sea

Illustration by Rick Stromoski

THE MORE I READ the story of Jonah nestled among the serious Minor Prophets of the Old Testament, the more fantastic and hilarious it gets. Everything is turned upside-down.

Jonah’s story follows Amos, who rips into rich people who “lie on beds of ivory and lounge on their couches.” It precedes Micah, whose Lord calls us “to do justice and to love kindness.” But Jonah spends his energy running away from Yahweh. In fact, Jonah is never even called a prophet in the book that bears his name. His interests and concerns are completely different from the Deity who has called him. Only entombment inside a “great fish” will drive his bedraggled, stinking self to the city that needs to repent. Even so, Jonah will perceive his surprising success as an utter failure.

But that’s getting ahead of the story. Most Hebrew prophetic books are collections of oracles unmoored to narrative, but Jonah’s tale has a setting, characters, and a plot! If you didn’t learn this in children’s Sunday school, here are the bare bones of the action:

Yahweh tells a man named Jonah to go east to the city of Nineveh to cry out against its evil. But Jonah flees in the opposite direction on a ship traveling west. A huge storm blows in, so when Jonah says it’s his fault, the sailors reluctantly throw him overboard. The storm immediately stops. A “great fish” swallows Jonah for three days and nights. Then God makes the fish vomit Jonah out on dry land.

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July 2015
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Free Speech, Big Fish, and Calls from God

Photo via CRM /

A protester holds a giant pencil at a march in support of free speech for Charlie Hebdo. Photo via CRM /

The Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris was an act of absolute evil. The fact that people sitting down for a simple editorial meeting at their work site could be killed due to hate is disturbing beyond words. It is a tragedy for all involved – for those killed, for the family and friends of those killed inside of the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, for the officer killed on the street outside, and for those involved in the hostage situations as the perpetrators were tracked down. It is also a tragedy for Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others who often find themselves being impacted by radical fringe elements who often do not represent the basic tenants of their faith or beliefs.

It can be so hard to watch these violent terrorist events unfold around the world. And we often try to explain them way too quickly. In this instance, some immediately blamed all Muslims for the attacks. Others immediately chastised the editorial decisions of Charlie Hebdo and the cartoons this satirical magazine has published of the Prophet Mohammed. Still others protest that this is a “simple” free speech situation. They say that the cartoons posted by Charlie Hebdo were satire but harmless and that the attackers were trying to silence them.

But free speech is an interesting and complicated thing. The question is often about the limits of free speech.

Islamic Extremists Impose Reign of Terror on Iraq

Police cars have been repainted to say “Islamic police.” Women are forbidden from wearing bright colors and prints. The homes of Shiites and others have signs stating they are property of the Islamic State. And everyone walks in fear amid a new reign of terror.

That’s what life is like in Mosul, Tikrit, and other cities in northern and western Iraq under the control of Islamic extremists after their lightning-fast military campaign that overwhelmed the Iraqi army in June.

The new normal for these residents means daily decrees about attire and raids to root out religious minorities in a campaign to impose strict Islamic rule in cities that tolerated multiple religions for centuries.

Video courtesy of USA Today.

Christianity's Most Common and Subtle Sin

Rational thinking illustration, phipatbig /

Rational thinking illustration, phipatbig /

Christianity’s most common and subtle sin is … rationalization.

‘Rationalization’ is defined as: an attempt to explain or justify (one's own or another's behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate (Wikipedia).

Essentially, rationalizing is a way of making excuses.

Ever since Adam tried to blame Eve (Gen. 3:12), Moses tried to downplay his ability to lead God’s people out of Israel (Exodus 3), Aaron tried to deflect blame for the Golden Calf onto others (Exodus 32:22), Gideon’s self-deprecation (Judges 6), and Jeremiah’s excuse of being too young (Jer. 1:6), people have rationalized their rebellion to God.

Creating logical, plausible, and valid explanations to justify our sinful actions — or inactions — is easy. We do it all the time because instead of being obviously and visibly wrong, it’s covert, motivated by fear, doubt, shame, and guilt, and mixed with what we assume is intellect and reason — in reality it’s a form of spiritual escapism.

Rationalization is a type of invisible rebellion. It’s hidden not just from us but from everyone. Therefore, it’s rarely noticeable and hardly ever called out. People aren’t held accountable for being reasonable.

But being a follower of Christ often demands being unreasonable.

Hell's Belly

Detail from "The Sea Stopped Raging," by Barry Moser, from Pennyroyal-Caxton Bible, 1999, used with permission.

From the midst of the nether
world I cried for help.
 —from the Book of Jonah

A gray whale blows off Cardiff Beach,
just beyond the glamour homes,
boutiques, and drive-thru windows,
valet service and all-u-can-eat sushi.
I want to swim out and be swallowed.

Jonah’s whale wasn’t Ahab’s, all
tripey white and peg-toothed, but
a strainer of phosphorescent shrimp,
which lamped the reeking gut, like
fireflies we swallowed once, in jars.


He uproots teeth primordial in nature and that eat his soul
with appetite the size of mercenary forces plundering a city

whose inhabitants do not fight back because most of them
are women, children, and animals that creep on all fours.

He knows of a city not spared and is without name, unlike Nineveh,
whose repentant king decreed:

Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth,
and they shall cry mightily to God.

He thinks of what to do but knows that he is not the prophet