Bible / writing

Jonah: The Reverse Story Arc

Last time I wrote about camel humps, aka story arcs. In my spiritual life, I have been into the Book of Jonah lately. And boy, it has a funky story arc! What kinda camel he be riding?

If all you heard about Jonah is that he got swallowed by a whale (or big ol’ fish), you haven’t heard the best part of this quirky little story.


Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at


All that excitement happens in the first half. Then we’re on to:


  • Petulance!

  • Complaining!

  • Fasting cows!

  • Itty bitty worm!

The whole story (just 4 chapters) is here.

The short of it is that God asks Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn them to change their evil ways. Jonah runs away. A big fish swallows him and brings him back. Jonah preaches doom, but for once in the Bible, people actually listen to the warning, and change their ways. God spares them.

Jonah mopes.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


I just love Jonah, because if he listened to himself, he’d hear how ridiculous he is. “This is exactly why I ran away, God. I knew you were gracious, kind, and loving, and you’d change your mind about destroying these people. Just kill me now.”

Such a drama queen!

Somehow it’s easier to have a sense of humor about my own ridiculous pride when I listen to Jonah.

It’s such odd storytelling, exactly the reverse of a typical story arc. The big exciting climax comes up front. And then the story gets smaller, and smaller. And the story that begins with a turbulent storm at sea and huge fish ends with a withered plant and a little worm.

typical story archJonah's story arc


And while we get lots of happy endings for the people of Nineveh, the sailors, some cows, and one big fish, our main character insists on having an unhappy ending. Because he isn’t playing on God’s team. He’s not even cheering for another human soul. He’s only playing on his own team.

Jonah’s story arc parallels what’s happening to him as a person. He’s slowly shrinking into himself.

So in one sense, I look at this story arc as a writer and say, “You got it turned around!” But on a spiritual and psychological level, it seems apt. When you’re in the story for your own sake, you dwindle away. Your life becomes a long anticlimax.

There are times my pride becomes more important than the mission. It helps in those moments, to wipe the sweat from my brow, and look at the petulant prophet on the dry dirt beside me. In my mind he sounds like Eeyore. Poor me. Nothing’s right. Somebody took my tail.


Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at


In my mind, we bray together a while, laugh when we realize how stupid we sound, dust ourselves off, and get back to work.

I thank Heaven for camels, big fish, and little worms.

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