This morning’s devotion comes from Peter Moore.

I called to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me… (Jonah 2:2, ESV)

There are no atheists in foxholes, as the saying goes. We turn to God when things get desperate, and we often wait until things get desperate before we do.

PinocchioAnd just how desperate is Jonah’s condition when he calls to the Lord? Interpretations vary. On the optimistic reading, Jonah is merely in a tough spot, but things are basically OK. Like Geppetto and his wooden toy Pinocchio, he is sitting there on a tranquil raft inside the belly of the great whale, merely awaiting rescue. Others might grant Jonah is in great danger, but deliverance is only a prayer away. “Call on the Lord, Jonah, and things will be fine.” This is the hopeful point of view that life is good and most distress is overstated.

But it’s quite different when you realize that Jonah is experiencing a kind of death. He is lost, utterly helpless, and beyond any possibility of rescue. Look at the cumulative images in this chapter. Water is the perpetual symbol of death in the Bible (think baptism); the whale, or “fish” is that great monster of the deep, Leviathan (Job 41:1; Ps 104:26), a symbol of disorder and chaos. Jonah is wrapped in the undersea weeds, drowning; the bars of the land have been “closed” to him forever; he is in the “Pit,” “cast out from God’s presence.” These are not symbols of “difficulty”—these are symbols of death and dereliction. Jonah has died there in the depths, and his prayer reflects a belief that even in extremis, so to speak, God has not abandoned and will not abandon him.

So, what of you and me? Do we feel completely abandoned at times, “dead” to all relationships, including God; caught in the web of encircling problems that are completely beyond us?

Since Jonah’s story is meant to be a sign to us, take heart. God is still watching, waiting, listening. Your awareness of this truth may be clouded by the sheer magnitude of our problems. But as the hymn writer William Cowper put it, “behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.”