Track 6 of the Biblical soundtrack is found in the minor prophet Jonah. While a small book and a perfect story for Sunday School, the Church has found tremendous comfort and power in Jonah's story and prayer.
Jonah wanted to escape from God's presence and God gave him the desire of his heart--a glimpse of existence without God. This was a dark night of the soul or perhaps a more Orthodox phrase: "a descent into hell". Most spiritual writers express this reality as a necessary stage of spiritual growth. For some it is imposed by God to purify. This is the way of the cross and it can not be escaped. Christ walked down this path for us and will meet us at the bottom. On the cross, he cries out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" This experience of Christ is beyond our understanding, but we can know that no hell we may endure has not been felt by our Savior.
Familiar to all is David's shepherd psalm, which begins: "the Lord is my shepherd", but soon takes us to "though I walk through the valley of death." David provides the hope of God's hidden hand in the darkness.
Contemporaries such as St. Siluoan the Athonite writes expressively of the terror the soul endures during this blackness beyond night. The only hope for the Christian is that Christ has been there, and will be there as the light peels back the darkness into resurrection.
For Jonah, the darkness is self-imposed. God came and spoke but God was unbearable to Jonah's heart. He had to escape what seemed like a burden of presence. While a spiritual problem, he used his body to remove himself as far as he could from physical and geographical reminders of his God. God obliged his escape, and Jonah was thrust into darkness. First, he found the terror of nature and then in the darkness of the belly of a whale hell rose up inside him.
In the moment of despair, he cries out for God's presence to return. It was a twofold cry--a cry of repentance and a cry of return.
Like the Christ that Jonah prefigures, he has descended into Hell to rise again, thrust forth from the heart of the earth three days later. For in the pit, like a hook, God's mercy latches to his grasping soul and pulls him into the light of resurrection.
for a previous post on Jonah click here