Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cynical Faith

This week I am trying to write a paper about Jonah and the big fish for my Hebrew Texts class. This Bible story has been told to me since I could look at picture books, and so I assumed I understood it. As it turns out, the biblical scholar’s interpretation of Jonah is far different from that of the children’s book writer. In childhood, I was taught that the narrative went something like this: God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah ran away because he was scared, God was angry at Jonah and sent a storm, Jonah was swallowed by a fish, and then, because he apologized, God spit him out and Jonah followed his intended path. In this childish story, everyone receives redemption, and God is an ever-compassionate Lord. Now I’m learning, and writing, about how the story is perceived from an academic standpoint. Scholars think the Book of Jonah might be a parody, it is generally understood that Jonah’s adventure into “the big fish” never happened, and Jonah is sometimes considered a malicious protagonist, rather than a man who over comes his doubt in God. I am formulating right now a thesis arguing Jonah is a false profit, according to Deuteronomy’s definition.

The disillusionment of faith is hard to swallow. It even seems oxymoronic to say that disillusionment of faith even exists, but I really think it does. That may be why people get discouraged with their religion so easily. However, without this kind of new understanding that naturally occurs as people are exposed to more events and ideas, faith and theology would remain shallow and synthetic. Without contemplating concepts that could possibly embitter a person, how could anyone prove that their faith or belief system has any base in reality? Or any real strength? I have probably said this before, and I will definitely say it again, but right now my main one-liner, my essential thought is: “Anything worth believing in can stand up to questions.” If I can not entertain the idea that maybe the stories I was told when I was young about the Bible are over simplifications of very complex accounts, how can I ever understand how God works on a more complex plain? Embracing the cynical, academic understanding of texts I consider sacred enables me to reflect on the way God speaks to me through them.

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