In The Belly Of The Whale
You may be aware of why storytellers use the term “In the belly of the whale” to describe the scene near the climax of a story where the character struggles to be transformed into a greater self.
In that stunning movie, Finding Nemo, Marlin and Dory enter the belly of a whale moment several times in their search to find Nemo. Once, they found themselves actually in the belly of a Baleen whale. Marlin, who is always paranoid about everything, holds onto the surface of the whale’s tongue above the abyss of its throat, terrified that he might be eaten.
After hearing the whale’s terrifying call, Dory tells Marlin, “He (whale) says it’s time to let go.” Literally, let go of the tongue but also let go of the tragedy in the past that has shaped his view of the world. Dory then plunges into the abyss.
Marlin then releases his hold on the tongue and plummets into darkness. The downward movement is symbolically toward death, but the fall changes into the upward movement of resurrection.
Then, finally, he and Dory are propelled out of the whale’s blowhole in a water spray. Immediately, they found themselves near the shores of Sydney. The place they travelled across the ocean, hoping to find Nemo.
It is not their indulgence, proficiency or despair that finally saved them but a willingness to let go of their old nature to be transformed anew by his love for his son.
This phrase alludes to the story of Jonah in the biblical narrative, a prophet running away from God. But unfortunately, the ship he was sailing on was caught in a massive storm. To save the lives of the sailors and the ship, Jonah asked them to hurl him into the sea, knowing that he was the reason for the storm. Then after he was thrown into the sea, a large fish swallowed him.
From the belly of the whale, he remembered God and cried to him. He repents and longs to return to the presence of God, offer sacrifices and pay his vows. Then God commanded the fish to spit him out into the dry land.
Like Jonah, Jesus entered the belly of the whale moment at the cross by surrendering to the will of his Father. As a result, God raised him from the dead into a new creation.
Why do we need the cross? Even the die-hard atheists of the science-fanatic type wonder why this strange and implausible story has had such an immense impact on human civilization.
It is because each life is a tragedy tainted by malevolence. Our old nature leads us to catastrophe and chaos, which often degenerate into hell. Still, from that crisis, Christ made a way to restoration through death and resurrection by abiding in love.
Christ’s acceptance of the crucifix, his willingness to be betrayed by his closest companions and his people, and his embrace of brokenness and death is the necessity of eternal transformation as an alternative to nihilistic despair.
Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” As a kernel must fall to the ground and die to bring about a new plant, we need to die to our pride, ego, envy, and selfish desires; we can be transformed into our greater self, the image of Christ. It is not merely about believing a set of facts or religious rituals as many foolish Christians think, but carrying our cross daily and following Christ.
The crossless alternative is a story of degeneration and nihilistic despair.