Taking the scariness out of Jonah

A Touchstone article criticizes children’s Bible story books that take out the scariness that is in the Bible, looking particularly at the treatments of Jonah and the whale. The author, Ronald F. Marshall, argues that the scary parts are necessary for the child to realize the Gospel in those stories. See Eaten Alive.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Joe

    I have read similar articles on Noah’s Ark. Unfortunately, I don’t have an links to offer. But this is a big problem. If a child is raised on a sugar coated version of God, free of anger, just punishment etc. the importance of the gospel is diminished. Indeed, without the law who needs to be saved. And the child may have a hard time understanding why certain behaviors are not acceptable. On the other hand if we give them the truth at a young age, we are promised that they will not depart from it.

    We have a Noah’s Ark painting in our bedroom. It was painted by my wife’s grandmother. As opposed to the happy smiling Noah surrounded by happy animals found in many children’s books, the painting properly depicts the scene. Noah is so small as to almost not be there (after all God loaded the ark not Noah). Storm clouds are rolling in and the sky is darkening. Judgment is on its way – yet in the middle of the painting sits the ark, God’s chosen vessel of salvation.

  • Joe

    I have read similar articles on Noah’s Ark. Unfortunately, I don’t have an links to offer. But this is a big problem. If a child is raised on a sugar coated version of God, free of anger, just punishment etc. the importance of the gospel is diminished. Indeed, without the law who needs to be saved. And the child may have a hard time understanding why certain behaviors are not acceptable. On the other hand if we give them the truth at a young age, we are promised that they will not depart from it.

    We have a Noah’s Ark painting in our bedroom. It was painted by my wife’s grandmother. As opposed to the happy smiling Noah surrounded by happy animals found in many children’s books, the painting properly depicts the scene. Noah is so small as to almost not be there (after all God loaded the ark not Noah). Storm clouds are rolling in and the sky is darkening. Judgment is on its way – yet in the middle of the painting sits the ark, God’s chosen vessel of salvation.

  • Joe

    I have read similar articles on Noah’s Ark. Unfortunately, I don’t have an links to offer. But this is a big problem. If a child is raised on a sugar coated version of God, free of anger, just punishment etc. the importance of the gospel is diminished. Indeed, without the law who needs to be saved. And the child may have a hard time understanding why certain behaviors are not acceptable. On the other hand if we give them the truth at a young age, we are promised that they will not depart from it.

    We have a Noah’s Ark painting in our bedroom. It was painted by my wife’s grandmother. As opposed to the happy smiling Noah surrounded by happy animals found in many children’s books, the painting properly depicts the scene. Noah is so small as to almost not be there (after all God loaded the ark not Noah). Storm clouds are rolling in and the sky is darkening. Judgment is on its way – yet in the middle of the painting sits the ark, God’s chosen vessel of salvation for Noah and his family.

  • Joe

    I have read similar articles on Noah’s Ark. Unfortunately, I don’t have an links to offer. But this is a big problem. If a child is raised on a sugar coated version of God, free of anger, just punishment etc. the importance of the gospel is diminished. Indeed, without the law who needs to be saved. And the child may have a hard time understanding why certain behaviors are not acceptable. On the other hand if we give them the truth at a young age, we are promised that they will not depart from it.

    We have a Noah’s Ark painting in our bedroom. It was painted by my wife’s grandmother. As opposed to the happy smiling Noah surrounded by happy animals found in many children’s books, the painting properly depicts the scene. Noah is so small as to almost not be there (after all God loaded the ark not Noah). Storm clouds are rolling in and the sky is darkening. Judgment is on its way – yet in the middle of the painting sits the ark, God’s chosen vessel of salvation for Noah and his family.

  • Bror Erickson

    one of the proudest moments I have had as a father was recounting the story of Jonah and the Whale to my five year old Son, Midrash style, on a road trip. My son asked why the whale ate Jonah, he was very disturbed at the moment, (he also thought Jonah need’s be a girls name). When I told him it was because Jonah refused to listen to God. My boy answered “Oh, you have to listen to God.” Maybe I’m raising a legalist, but you still have to be proud.

  • Bror Erickson

    one of the proudest moments I have had as a father was recounting the story of Jonah and the Whale to my five year old Son, Midrash style, on a road trip. My son asked why the whale ate Jonah, he was very disturbed at the moment, (he also thought Jonah need’s be a girls name). When I told him it was because Jonah refused to listen to God. My boy answered “Oh, you have to listen to God.” Maybe I’m raising a legalist, but you still have to be proud.

  • Joe

    Sorry about the double post

  • Joe

    Sorry about the double post

  • FullTime

    Jonah wasn’t eaten as punishment for disobeying God. He was stopped on his voyage and tossed into the sea as punishment. The fish was God’s mercy, saving him from death. I imagine it was a very horrifying, uncomfortable, stinky sort of mercy. Sometimes when we disobey, the path back will not be easy or comfortable.

    I love the idea of telling the stories without the sugar coating. After decades of Sunday School pictures of Noah with his Happy Zoo, roofed by a colorful rainbow and Daniel surrounded by sleepy looking Great Cats, the stories get taken for granted and the horror of God’s judgment, and the wonder of Salvation get a little buried.

    On a side note – They also take out the sex. The story of Esther is not about a Beauty Pageant. Nor is it a biblical “Cinderella at the Ball.” But I am not necessarily saying we ought to put the details of THAT in when teaching young children.

  • FullTime

    Jonah wasn’t eaten as punishment for disobeying God. He was stopped on his voyage and tossed into the sea as punishment. The fish was God’s mercy, saving him from death. I imagine it was a very horrifying, uncomfortable, stinky sort of mercy. Sometimes when we disobey, the path back will not be easy or comfortable.

    I love the idea of telling the stories without the sugar coating. After decades of Sunday School pictures of Noah with his Happy Zoo, roofed by a colorful rainbow and Daniel surrounded by sleepy looking Great Cats, the stories get taken for granted and the horror of God’s judgment, and the wonder of Salvation get a little buried.

    On a side note – They also take out the sex. The story of Esther is not about a Beauty Pageant. Nor is it a biblical “Cinderella at the Ball.” But I am not necessarily saying we ought to put the details of THAT in when teaching young children.

  • Bror Erickson

    Fulltime,
    I would concede that there was mercy involved in God sending the fish, but it wasn’t exactly a cruise back to the coast. Remember Jonah had not yet repented, he had not yet consented to God’s will. It took a few days being digested in the belly of what ever big fish it was, before Jonah was coaxed into doing God’s will. God wasn’t going to let Jonah off with a quick drowning. Death is not the worst thing for those beloved by God.

  • Bror Erickson

    Fulltime,
    I would concede that there was mercy involved in God sending the fish, but it wasn’t exactly a cruise back to the coast. Remember Jonah had not yet repented, he had not yet consented to God’s will. It took a few days being digested in the belly of what ever big fish it was, before Jonah was coaxed into doing God’s will. God wasn’t going to let Jonah off with a quick drowning. Death is not the worst thing for those beloved by God.

  • http://joeburnham.com Joe Burnham

    That’s odd, the children’s version of the Jonah that was given to us basically said, “Be good or you’re going to suffer in the belly of a fish for three days.” Talk about a serious proclamation of the law with no hope of Gospel.

  • http://joeburnham.com Joe Burnham

    That’s odd, the children’s version of the Jonah that was given to us basically said, “Be good or you’re going to suffer in the belly of a fish for three days.” Talk about a serious proclamation of the law with no hope of Gospel.

  • mamaof2

    Jonah also removes the idea that the success of mission work is dependent upon the pleasant personality and ‘mission heart’ of the preacher. Ninevah repented after a five word sermon given by a real bitter sourpuss sinner who was still living in disobedience. God accomplishes what He wants to, in spite of me!

  • mamaof2

    Jonah also removes the idea that the success of mission work is dependent upon the pleasant personality and ‘mission heart’ of the preacher. Ninevah repented after a five word sermon given by a real bitter sourpuss sinner who was still living in disobedience. God accomplishes what He wants to, in spite of me!

  • Another Kerner

    Ah……Jonah’s great adventure.

    I love Jonah.

    He is one of God’s reluctant servants.
    We can see him in our mind’s eye as he boards the ship going the wrong way to Tarshish thinking that his idea was the better option than God’s command.
    Not much of a missionary, he.

    And a storm rages.

    Jonah does not deny to the sailors that it is he who has put them in peril.

    He bravely instructs them to throw him into the sea so that God will calm the sea and preserve the ship and the lives of those aboard it.

    He is an honest disobedient servant.
    Apparently the sailors also apprehended that God is the true God, for they offer a sacrifice to Him.

    ( Jonah’s first converts on his mission voyage. God is indeed mysterious in a wonderous way.)

    The Lord prepared the great fish *especially* for Jonah.

    “From deep inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God: “in my distress, O Lord, I called to you and you answered me. From deep in the world of the dead I cried for help, and you heard me.” Jonah 2:1-2

    Jonah repents and prepares his sermon for Ninevah in the belly of the fish.

    God hears Jonah. His prayer is answered.

    He is vomited up on the beaches of Ninevah, covered with sea weed and fish bile. He preaches a one sentence sermon….and Ninevah is saved.

    And then Jonah pouts in the shade of the gourd.

    “But God prepared a worm.”

    I love Jonah……both saint and sinner like all of us……
    …who are sometimes equally reluctant servants, who often learn the most profound lessons during the severest trials……knowing, at last,.. that the God we serve fits each of us perfectly for the work He would have us do……..sometimes in the belly of a great fish.

    “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”.
    Eph.2:10

    Tell children about Jonah, with all the frightening details.

    Because God hears Jonah, rescues him, and instructs him……as He does all of us.

  • Another Kerner

    Ah……Jonah’s great adventure.

    I love Jonah.

    He is one of God’s reluctant servants.
    We can see him in our mind’s eye as he boards the ship going the wrong way to Tarshish thinking that his idea was the better option than God’s command.
    Not much of a missionary, he.

    And a storm rages.

    Jonah does not deny to the sailors that it is he who has put them in peril.

    He bravely instructs them to throw him into the sea so that God will calm the sea and preserve the ship and the lives of those aboard it.

    He is an honest disobedient servant.
    Apparently the sailors also apprehended that God is the true God, for they offer a sacrifice to Him.

    ( Jonah’s first converts on his mission voyage. God is indeed mysterious in a wonderous way.)

    The Lord prepared the great fish *especially* for Jonah.

    “From deep inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God: “in my distress, O Lord, I called to you and you answered me. From deep in the world of the dead I cried for help, and you heard me.” Jonah 2:1-2

    Jonah repents and prepares his sermon for Ninevah in the belly of the fish.

    God hears Jonah. His prayer is answered.

    He is vomited up on the beaches of Ninevah, covered with sea weed and fish bile. He preaches a one sentence sermon….and Ninevah is saved.

    And then Jonah pouts in the shade of the gourd.

    “But God prepared a worm.”

    I love Jonah……both saint and sinner like all of us……
    …who are sometimes equally reluctant servants, who often learn the most profound lessons during the severest trials……knowing, at last,.. that the God we serve fits each of us perfectly for the work He would have us do……..sometimes in the belly of a great fish.

    “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”.
    Eph.2:10

    Tell children about Jonah, with all the frightening details.

    Because God hears Jonah, rescues him, and instructs him……as He does all of us.

  • Patrick Kyle

    My 4 year old son recently brought to me one of his Bible story books and had been enthralled by the pictures of the whale etc. and proceeded to ask the typical questions. I asked him if he wanted me to read him the whole story right out of the Bible. He was very eager, so I read to him the the first half of the book of Jonah. We were interupted by lunch and some errands, but he made me promise that we would finish it before bed. He made sure I honored my promise and sat totally focussed as I finished the rest of the book. He had some questions about why Jonah had run from God and some specifics about the fish. As I kissed him goodnight he said ‘We need to talk more about this tomorrow.’

  • Patrick Kyle

    My 4 year old son recently brought to me one of his Bible story books and had been enthralled by the pictures of the whale etc. and proceeded to ask the typical questions. I asked him if he wanted me to read him the whole story right out of the Bible. He was very eager, so I read to him the the first half of the book of Jonah. We were interupted by lunch and some errands, but he made me promise that we would finish it before bed. He made sure I honored my promise and sat totally focussed as I finished the rest of the book. He had some questions about why Jonah had run from God and some specifics about the fish. As I kissed him goodnight he said ‘We need to talk more about this tomorrow.’

  • http://www.thekurths.com daisymay

    We named our son Jonah (he is almost five months old now). We love the story of Jonah because at no point in the story can Jonah claim any of God’s glory for himself. God is able to use him in spite of his disobedience. Just as He saves us in spite of ourselves, and not because of any merit of our own.

  • http://www.thekurths.com daisymay

    We named our son Jonah (he is almost five months old now). We love the story of Jonah because at no point in the story can Jonah claim any of God’s glory for himself. God is able to use him in spite of his disobedience. Just as He saves us in spite of ourselves, and not because of any merit of our own.

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