By B.J. Funk
If the smell of gastric juices and dead fish didn’t get to Jonah, the seaweed would. Inside the dark belly of this fish, with saltwater swirling over his nose as he gasped for air, Jonah realized he was not in the middle of some other fisherman’s large fish story! This was his story, and it was getting pretty grim.
After he refused to obey God, Jonah was thrown overboard and found his home to be the belly of a fish. This wasn’t just any old fish cruising around the Mediterranean Sea. It was a God-ordained, divinely appointed, chosen fish! Jonah 1:17 reads, “The Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah.”
Jonah lets us in on his desperation in Jonah 2:7 when he says, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you.” Jonah realized God was serious, and certainly Jonah had nowhere else to turn.
Do you have a child living in the belly of a fish? You can always tell a belly dweller because God wants him to go one way, yet he goes another. He swims in the darkness of financial distress, poor judgment, and bad choices. Alcohol or drug consumption fill in the endless holes in his life, and his environment is not anything close to what you would use to create a miracle. In fact, sometimes you want to give up. The fish smell is too musty and rank for your senses, the dampness too moldy, and the darkness too grave. Imagine, however, what God can do with your loved one in these conditions. Sometimes, we need to allow the darkness to do its work. We need to allow it to prime the pump for a miracle!
What imprisonment of darkness has God allowed to swallow your family member in order that they might pray, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you”? God can get our attention when he sends what appears to be impending disaster into our situations. The sailors didn’t toss Jonah into a thick bed of sweet-smelling roses. They tossed him into the frightening darkness of the sea.
What about Joseph? His brothers were jealous of him because Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons. Joseph was hated by his brothers. When he was seventeen, those brothers threw him into a cistern and then sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites going to Egypt. He spent the next 13 years in prison as an Egyptian slave, but at age 30, by God’s miraculous intervention, Joseph became governor of Egypt. God used a cistern and a cell to prime the pump for a miracle in Joseph’s life. Darkness rubbed away the spoiled child, producing a giant of a man.
In 1784, reprobate Captain John Newton attempted to steer his ship to safety during a dark, violent storm. It was this storm that he later referred to as his “great deliverance.” When it seemed like his ship was doomed for certain disaster, John Newton saw his life ebbing away. In desperation he cried out, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Grace fell upon his ship and upon his life. Later, he expressed his gratitude with words that led to the song “Amazing Grace.” The dark fear of disaster at sea brought a salvation miracle to John Newton’s life.
In each situation, God got someone’s attention through darkness. Jonah decided to obey God, Joseph grew up, and John Newton cried out to God.
Why does it take our life “ebbing away” for us to call out to God? What is it about darkness that primes the pump for an upcoming miracle? In Genesis 1:2-3, we read that in the beginning of creation, darkness was over the face of the earth; yet the Spirit of God was hovering. Out of this darkness, God said, “Let there be light.”
Creating miracles in the midst of darkness, terrible smells, and conditions that are less than perfect is nothing new for God. Look at the marvelous miracle God performs when he creates a baby in the darkness and dampness of a mother’s womb. What about the darkness and dampness of a musty stable, with donkey and sheep smells permeating the air? From this darkness came the miracle of our Savior’s birth. Then, there is the dark, damp tomb in which the crucified Christ lay. From this darkness, the living Christ arose! In each case, darkness preceded the miracle and primed the pump for new life.
If you have someone living in darkness now, whether in the belly of a fish, in a cistern, cell, or in a storm, you can know that the pump is being primed for a miracle of grace. Take encouragement in these words from Exodus 20:21: “…Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”
B.J. Funk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Fitzgerald, Georgia. She is the author of The Dance of Life: Invitation to a Father Daughter Dance, a regular contributor to the South Georgia Advocate, and a frequent speaker at women’s retreats.