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The Sign of Jonah
The Sign of Jonah

The Divine Paradox 

Friday, April 7, 2023

Presbyterian pastor Rachel Srubas writes of the paradox at the heart of Good Friday and the three-day “triduum” of Holy Week:  

Jesus anticipated his arrest, passion, and entombment, calling this triduum “three days and three nights … in the heart of the earth,” and likening it to the prophet Jonah’s journey “in the belly of the sea monster” (Matthew 12:40). Thomas Merton, the brilliant contemplative writer of the twentieth century … also wrote of Jonah (or as Merton and others have called him, Jonas). In The Sign of Jonas, … Merton said, “It was when Jonas was traveling as fast as he could away from Nineveh, toward Tharsis, that he was thrown overboard and swallowed by a whale who took him where God wanted him to go…. Even our mistakes are eloquent, more than we know.” [1] 

A sense of sacred irony, of eloquent mistakes, has for centuries enabled Christians to call the Friday of Jesus’ tortuous execution “good.” This is not a matter of putting a happy spin on a grisly, unjust tragedy. Good Friday, and all Christian life, is about embracing paradox. Jesus’ teachings and his death reveal sacred contradictions. The truth that you and I may try to avoid, the pain we’re loath to face, point the way toward our freedom from captivating lies that perpetuate our suffering. When you and I embrace Jesus’ essential paradox—that to lose is to gain and to die is to live—we come to God, who gathers up the broken pieces of the world and makes them more complete and beautiful than they were before they broke. God integrates all fractious dualities into the wholeness of life that Christians call eternal salvation. It’s a life we get to live here and now, by grace and faith. It’s the life toward which Lent has always pointed.  

Like Father Richard, Srubas considers the cross a “collision of opposites” that leads us deeper into reality and the presence of God:  

Following his jubilant entry into Jerusalem (which Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday), Jesus told his disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23b–24). Pay attention to that pivotal unless and understand: without the fatal fall, no glorious resurrected life can be lived.  

From this divine paradox, it follows that there can be no compassion without passion, no responsive loving-kindness unless there first comes suffering. Until God ultimately mends all of creation’s broken pieces, there will come suffering.…  

“You will know the truth,” Jesus said to those who trusted him, “and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). By his clear-eyed honesty, Jesus revealed holy, ironic wholeness. Denying pain would intensify it but facing hard facts of life and death would lead people deep into reality, the only place where God eternal can be found.  


[1] Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1953, 1981), 10–11. 

Rachel M. Srubas, The Desert of Compassion: Devotions for the Lenten Journey (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2023), 167–168, 169. 


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Good News According to Luke: Spiritual Reflections (New York: Crossroad,1997), 152. 

[2] Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1953, 1981), 341. 

Image Credit: A path from one week to the next—Jenna Keiper, North Cascades Sunrise. Jenna Keiper, Photo of a beloved artpiece belonging to Richard Rohr (Artist Unknown.) McEl Chevrier, Untitled. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

One of Richard Rohr’s favorite art pieces about the prophet Jonah and the whale. 

Story from Our Community:

The Daily Meditations and other writings of CAC have been a rich blessing to my husband and I for many years. Three weeks ago, I was with my husband as he peacefully passed away. During the last several days, I often joined with him in the Yahweh Prayer. In the wake of his death, I have felt complete peace knowing that he and I were, and are, in the Presence. “All will be well…all manner of things will be well.” —Shirley S. 

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