DO you believe that Jonah was ever in the belly of a whale? I do because I've been there more than once myself. Not literally, of course, but I've had that miserable feeling we have when we do something we know is wrong and then realize we've gotten into a terrible situation as a result. Whether we see the story of Jonah as a parable or as history, it certainly illustrates the point that there is no circumstance too frightening or too hopeless for God to save us from. Guilt and self-condemnation don't get us out, but we can pray and have our prayer answered.
Jonah was certainly no saint. He could be disobedient and willful. When God told him to go to Nineveh to preach, Jonah took a boat in another direction. But when a storm arose and all aboard seemed doomed, Jonah told the sailors, ``Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.'' Whatever Jonah had expected, he didn't drown. A ``great fish'' swallowed him up. We're told he stayed in that wretched place for three days and three nights. The Bible tells us: ``Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly.'' The fish spat him out onto dry ground, and Jonah went on to Nineveh to do what he was supposed to have done in the first place.
Sometimes we're so grateful to be rescued -- even if we have to spend some dark time after the rescue -- that we become more willing to be obedient to God and more dependent on His love and forgiveness. Christ Jesus came teaching mankind of this God of love and forgiveness. He taught his followers, including those who follow him today, the importance of praying to follow God's will in our lives.
Being obedient to God is a sure protection. But to obey God, we have to learn to listen to what He's telling us. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``Ignorance of God is no longer the stepping-stone to faith. The only guarantee of obedience is a right apprehension of Him whom to know aright is Life eternal.''
To know God aright is also to know Him as divine Principle, governing man with wisdom and love. God, divine Principle, tenderly guides each of us in the way that blesses, protects, and gives us all good. As we learn to understand more of this divine Principle, are obedient to its laws, we begin to experience the blessings of obedience to God.
God is divine ever-present Love, who guides and protects His children and delivers them from even the worst situations. His laws constitute our health, happiness, and actual being. And there is nothing -- neither the deepest sin nor some foolish mistake -- that can separate the spiritual reality of our being from God's goodness and care.
Sickness and sin, then, are not the will of God for His offspring. With the help of God, omnipotent Love, we can begin to overcome both in our lives. And as we strive to be obedient to divine Love, we will find ourselves progressively able to give up the sin that causes us to suffer.
In proportion as our understanding of God and of man's relationship to Him increases, our willingness to be obedient to His guidance also increases. And human life naturally becomes more productive, healthy, and progressive. It's not that we don't have difficulties to face and overcome, but those whale's-belly times of hopelessness and despair progressively fade from our lives. We know from experience that we can never find ourselves in a place where God doesn't hear and answer our prayer.