Scripture from the ESV
17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
And the Lord appointed a great fish
All Creatures, great and small, dumb and intelligent are under the command of God. This event is specially appointed, prepared, and reckoned in the Scriptures.
The fish is prepared by God since its birth, to grow large and terrible. We all have a divine appointment with death, signified by the beast of the deep.
The fish is not only a sign of death, but a figure of despair, of a spiritual low point.
A great fish to swallow up Jonah.
Like the prodigal son who finds himself in a strange land longing for pigs food, this is a story of the soul in spiritual misery, claustrophobic, isolated, and bordering on madness. God permits us in His mercy to realize the oblivion which we seek unwittingly, even willingly seek.
God in his mercy reveals the destructive nature of the self which would will itself into a state of existence which we abhor, to discover how unbearable our lives become under our own lordship.
By the power of his own will, Jonah has now lost all self-command. He is under the mercy of a dumb and terrible beast.
God leads and sustains us in a contemplation of our condition. Without such mercy we would perish.
And Jonah was in the belly of the fish
“Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed!” -John Lennon
Our baptism is a sign that we share in the death of Christ.
The ark of Noah is a sign of baptism, just as the journey in the belly of the fish. In each case there is a figure of death and of preservation.
The air is foul; the conditions cramped; dizziness and nausea? The dark night of the soul is not simply an intellectual problem, it is an affliction of the whole being. In such cases, the disgust one encounters is part of recognizing that one is capable of any sin, any and all depravity and self-destruction, even or especially when one is thinking well of oneself. Even one’s good intentions become suspect and foul.
Three days and three nights
The journey is not fleeting. How does one keep track of time in such moments? Such may as well have been an eternity. Such was eternity. Impersonal Eternity is the what of the journey.
Jonah’s affliction parallels Christs, but Christ undergoes a greater separation. Jonah finds recourse to prayer–Christ goes where prayer is of no avail.
Like a seed in the ground, like diving deep into the water, like winter before Spring, there is a moment before the return, an eternity in which that which is strictly human can no longer hope. When we finally give up to despair, if our despair is in and because of the self, we become capable of true hope.