I was as far down as a body can go, and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever—Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O God, my God! When my life was slipping away, I remembered God, and my prayer got through to you, made it all the way to your Holy Temple. Those who worship hollow gods, god-frauds, walk away from their only true love. But I'm worshiping you, God, calling out in thanksgiving! And I'll do what I promised I'd do! Salvation belongs to God! (Jonah 2:6-10 The Message)
As far as we can go - a description of the distance we have placed between God's direction in our lives and our obedience! Doors slamming shut forever - or so it seems in our finite understanding of the place we find ourselves. Yet...in the midst of our despair...God is never far from us.
It is indeed a shame for us to get to the place where our "lives are slipping away from us" before realizing how much our disobedience has cost us. Jonah is an example to us of redemption - grace where it is least deserved. In the place of rebellion, we don't realize how much of "life" is slipping away from us. It may not be our literal "life", but it is indeed our spiritual life. We don't sense the loss associated in the point between God's direction and our continual resistance to his will. Yet, this "drift" is real - and it has a way of "distancing" us from God.
Jonah was in such a place. I have no idea what type of fish swallowed him up - nor am I going to speculate on this one. I do know scripture says God prepared a place for him - a place for him to come to the realization of his need. This is God's way! He knows the exact point of our turning and he prepares the exact place for the "dawning" of our awareness of intense need for restoration. We may not get swallowed by a big fish, but I am sure we have all experienced some "big fish" moments! The "stuff" we are in just isn't all that pleasant - it smells awful, it makes us feel awful, and it gives us a sense of darkness which just envelopes us.
The "big fish" moment may be what some refer to as "coming to an end of our rope" or "reaching rock bottom". Whatever the expression, the need is the same - deliverance! David finds himself in the misery of covering up his sin with Bathsheba, torn apart by his compounding it with the murder of her husband. His bones ache, his mood is foul, and he has no joy in all the luxuries he is surrounded with as King of Israel. Sin has this effect - it robs us of even the pleasures we once took so much for granted.
God's mercy allows for us to get to "rock bottom". It also provides a way for us to get on solid ground again! The very next part of the passage states, "Then God spoke to the fish, and it vomited up Jonah on the seashore." Out of darkness, God brought sound footing again! Look at when God does this, though. It is not when he first goes overboard - there has been a passage of time in which Jonah comes to a place of realizing he has been running from the very thing God desired for him. David had this same "span" between his disobedience and God's sending Nathan to him to tell him the story of his sin and the hope for his deliverance.
We often need the "span" in order to come to a place of submission. We just don't recognize our misery until it has become our undoing. Truly, this is a sad reality, but one we see played out in life after life - including our own. Yet, there is hope beyond our imagining! In the moment of "rock bottom", God is prepared with the next move! In the moment of our cry for help, his actions are swift on our behalf. This is the God we serve - merciful, moved by compassion, and swift to provide for his children.
It is far better to never reach the place of distancing ourselves from God - but if we have, we can rest in the assurance of his grace! I don't know what "whale" has swallowed you whole, but I do know the seashore of God's deliverance awaits! All it takes is a cry for forgiveness! He does the rest!