So, in this modern and “enlightened” age, one of the things that you may have heard, even in a church, is that all those goofy Old Testament stories about prophets getting swallowed by big fish and mobile zoos surviving global floods are all made up. They say that they’re important stories but they’re important in the way that Jesus’ parables are important. They teach us lessons, but (hohoho) of course they didn’t actually happen!
Someone asked me today, “Do you think they really did?” My answer: “Why yes, I do believe they happened.” In fact, I believe that there is literally no chance that they didn’t happen. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Zero. They definitely happened. So, what follows here are reasons, particularly written for the person who has been told, in church, that these are just symbolic parables.
First, churches should believe and teach that these things actually happened because:
1. There’s a God. Seriously, if there’s a God you have to accept that these things, at least, could have happened. Last I checked it was kind of a main feature of religion to promote the idea that God does miraculous things. If you are open to the possibility of God existing, you have to be open to the possibility that He does amazing things like that.
2. The Bible (and Jesus) talks like they happened.
So, a problem with saying that Jonah in the fish or Noah and the ark are “just like parables” is that they’re…like…totally not. Here’s a parable: “There was once this guy. He had a couple sons. Their names aren’t important. And we don’t need to go into where they all lived, how old they were, who their parents were or how many kids they had. But here’s a little story about them anyway to teach you a lesson.” That’s a parable.
But stories like Noah’s flood or Jonah’s fish are not vague about biographical or historical details. They are written just like they happened to real people, in real places, in real times, with real genealogies and real consequences.
And that leads to another point: when other writers or speakers in the New Testament refer to these stories, they speak as if they happened and as if there are consequences for not believing them. In 2 Peter 3:5-6, Peter writes as if Noah’s flood was a preview of the final judgment to come. He says, in fact, that it’s dangerous to overlook this fact. In Luke 11:29-34 Jesus speaks as if the story of Jonah actually happened. He says that Jonah’s experience in the belly of that fish was a “sign” (i.e., miracle) that points to Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead (also a miracle). Jesus speaks as if one miracle was meant to give us more reasons to believe in the second miracle. He also says that the generation which witnessed Jonah’s preaching would actually rise up at the judgment and condemn the unbelieving generation in Jesus’ day. Jesus pretty clearly believed the Jonah story actually happened. Which leads to the last point.
3. It doesn’t get more impressive than the resurrection of Jesus and there’s plenty of evidence for that: Why would we dismiss any other incredible thing we read in the Bible?
If you believe that it matters that Jesus actually rose from the dead, and the Bible says that it does (1 Corinthians 15:17) then what’s the trouble with accepting that any other amazing thing in the Bible actually happened?
At the end of the day: a world without the miraculous, even the incredibly miraculous, is a world without God. And if there’s no God, then you can sleep in on Sunday. But here’s the thing: you know there’s a God.
Romans 1 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.