A fish story

by Don Hartness

Even those skipping Sunday school are familiar with the story of Jonah.

One of the shortest stories in the Bible, God commands Jonah to preach to Nineveh about their coming destruction due to their evil ways.  Jonah runs away, boarding a ship for a far distant land. God won’t let Jonah escape so easily, sending a huge storm that threatens to capsize the ship. Once the crew figures out who is to blame, they act on Jonah’s suggestion, and throw him overboard.

Incredulously, a large fish (the whale) swallows the man up, holds him for three days, and then pukes Jonah on dry land.  The focus for most readers is on this single, hardly believable act: if one is to believe the tale, one has to believe in miracles.

Believe the story or not, the true fish-tale in this story does not involve the fish.  It involves what happens afterward.

The True Miracle of Jonah

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, described as an extremely cruel people, both from biblical records and from archeological finds.  Mutilation, bodies stacked like wood, and mountains of skulls are part of the account. The Assyrians were haughtily proud of their terrorism, all while profiting from their conquests and plunder.  No one dared to oppose the Assyrians.

What was Jonah’s message?  Although not specifically coined, Jonah’s message is summed up in a single word: repentance.

The word repentance is often narrowly understood to mean “turning from sin.” The broader definition loses the religious context often attributed to the word. The Greek origin of repentance  suggests a compound word meaning “to think differently after.”  The etymology of repentance reveals “a change of mind and heart”, or, “a change of consciousness.”

Jonah eventually preaches his message in Nineveh. The result is not a king experiencing a sudden religious conversion to Judaism.  Nor does the king issue an edict for his citizens to do likewise.  We certainly don’t read of an inquisitive king requesting a bible tract while saying, “Please, tell me more!”

Instead, he issues a command for everyone to “call on God” and “give up their evil ways and their violence,” demonstrating a simple change of mind and heart. Over a hundred thousand citizens follow the king’s order.

Talk about a whopper of a fish story.

An Ancient Call…

What would repentance look like today?

Repentance would include politicians eliminating political polls and pocket-books in decision-making…

…while ceasing to make political speeches about “preserving the world for future generations”, because the future is here.

Repentance would mean liberals ceasing to give away  a fish, while conservatives would start teaching people to fish…

…and both parties would stop switching sides when the political climate favors a switch. The words “losing” and “sabotage” would no longer be connected.

Repentance would include public recognition that the ballot box is not an answer to everything…

…that government is not always the solution, nor always the problem…

…and your solution, no matter how profound, does not include a monopoly on all knowledge…

…because argument, without understanding your opponent’s view, is the grossest form of ignorance.

Repentance would include a recognition that government is truly “by the people”, even if it is not “for the people”, because your government is a reflection of you

…real change, therefore, begins with you, not them.

Repentance would be for rich and poor.  Corporations and investors would stop exploiting the population as disposable commodities, while the poor would cease from finding ways to game the system…

…because lying, cheating, and stealing, even in a system that encourages these actions, are not virtues…

…but “social responsibility” is a virtue shared by all, instead of just a marketing buzzword for corporations and investors.

Repentance involves a recognition that not everything is for sale…

…and profit as our sole guiding force in everything we do results in everything becoming worthless.

Repentance includes the epiphany that technology should serve us, not the other way around…

…and that education, engineering, and innovation, as a social and economic solution, rewards “brilliant minds” while punishing “brilliant hands”.

Repentance, regardless of one’s religion or lack thereof, means the recognition that all religions contain core values vital to the survival of civilization…

…churches, therefore, would refocus on living these core values, instead of focusing on political hot buttons…

…while intellectuals and the non-religious would recognize the connection between the decay of religion and the decline of morality.

Repentance includes challenging even our most sacred assumptions and, if still accepted, living them in deed, as well as word…

…because “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” either belongs to all, or it belongs to nobody.

Repentance understands that knowledge is only one half of the battle…

will is the other half…

…and that blog responses, discussion posts, and “like” buttons are not action…

…for freedom of speech, without corresponding action, is the best form of social control ever devised.

Ultimately, repentance recognizes that the problem is not them, or you

…it is us.

It is me.

…and an ancient warning

Seems a little far-fetched, doesn’t it?  So were the reports of Nineveh’s repentance.

In 612 BC, Nineveh was destroyed by the Babylonians. Wind-blown sand erased the site from history as Nineveh dissolved into fable. It took archeologists almost 2500 years to re-discover the ancient city.  It seems that Nineveh’s repentance was short-lived.

Just another fish story.

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