Free & Fit - Children's Literature in Theology - Introduction to the Four Senses of Theology
Free & Fit - Children's Literature in Theology - Introduction to the Four Senses of Theological Interpretation by Tim Cheux
The use of different theological interpretations to explore how the Bible, New and Old Testament, can be explained through the Four Spiritual senses. The Four Senses of Theology included the two classes in the Literal and Spiritual sense. However, the Spiritual sense includes three of its own types; Allegorical which is a narrative of a story explaining the symbol of the book or passage, typological in the morale interpretation what it means in an ethical or moral context and how we should act, turning inwardly and back to God. Then, finally, in Analogically senses of scripture which explains the Apocalyptic future of the Christian faith and pointing towards heaven (McClain, 2019, Lecture on Introduction to Children's Literature).
In the first sense, literal sense, the context of literal is not literalist. It is not just what happened scientifically or historically what happened, but what the story is telling us as the human interpreter and then separately in turn God as interpreter being the creator and author. In Genesis 1:1 to know that we do not know the necessary length of time if it were six days, but that God worked for six units of metric measurement and then rested on the seventh metrical measurement. It was not necessary to define it as days, but it could have been weeks, months, years or even centuries. We do not know how long it was and this has been disputed throughout history. Therefore, it is important that we understand not to interpret it too literally, but to instead read between the lines and fully try to understand what the scripture, the characters and the story is telling us (McClain, 2019, Lecture on Introduction to Children's Literature.)
It is also vitally important for us to understand the differences in context to the three different Spiritual senses. Not to just understand the Spiritual examples, but also to understand the Allegorical, Morale and Anagogical in the context of scripture. The Allegorical examples are often used to quote Jesus and his teachings through the parables on Matthew 13:1-23 which describes the parable of the sower. For example, the fable of the sower Jesus describes that the person who sows much receives much. “But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13:1-25).” The practical explanation helps us the reader to gain a fuller understanding of the text and to fully grasp what it means.
The morale method is the process which we measure the scriptures through its morale teaching. In context to the Old Testament this would be the Proverbial wisdom texts which includes the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job often known as the wisdom books. In Proverbs 1:7 we read about the difference between a righteous person and one person who describes a life of disobedience. The righteous shall live and the wicked shall perish. Finally, we then learn about the almost Prophetic gift of interpreting scripture through anagogical theory and what Biblical futures look like. A notable example of this in the book of Revelation (1:12-17) in the New Testament and in the Book of Daniel (3:28-30) (McClain, 2019, Lecture on Introduction to Children's Literature.)
Chosen Text and Biblical Reference Point
The Chosen text for this paper is the Fantastic Mr. Fox and the scene where Fantastic Mr. Fox is describing a story, which he explains to his family, as taking three days and nights. There are two stories which parallel this in the Bible both in the Old Testament with Jonah and the Big Fish (Jonah 1:17, Jonah 2:10) and Jesus and the Resurrection Matthew (12:38-40).
The text selected from the book chosen by the author of this paper is taken from Chapter nine and describes a scene where the family are scrambling to hide from the oncoming humans whom are seeking to take their land and the family are desperately digging to hide from the humans.
“For three days and three nights this waiting-game went on. "How long can a fox go without food or water? "Boggis asked on the third day" Not much longer now," Bean told him. "He'll make a run for it soon. He'll have to." Bean was right. Down in the tunnel the foxes were slowly but surely starving to death. "If only we could have just a tiny sip of water," said one of the Small Foxes. "Oh, Dad, can't you do something? "Couldn't we make a dash for it, Dad? We'd have a little bit of a chance, wouldn't we?" "No chance at all," snapped Mrs. Fox. "I refuse to let you go up there and face those guns. I'd sooner you stay down here and die in peace (Roehl Dahl, Chapter 9, page)."
The struggle is between the people, Boggis and Bean were debating how long could the foxes go without food and water before they need to come up to ground to sustain themselves. The difficulty was that they were facing a certain death with the humans waiting for them at the top of the ground from where they had a digger and were ready to pounce to shoot them with their guns as soon as they set foot before them. So, what type of story do we believe here in the context of our theological senses? We are certain to not to describe it as being the literal interpretation as the Foxes are surely in a situation of despair and there may be no confusion about the context of time here due to the realistic and disputed amount of time they have left before they starve to death.
We can certainly take moral pictures from this text. For example, Mrs. Fox responds to her child's plea to leave that she “refuses to let the fox go up there and face those guns.” Essentially Mrs. Fox felt it would be a blood bath and wanted to preserve a life, namely one of her own. This is similar to that of when God looks to protect Jonah and when Mother Mary looks to protect her son Jesus Christ of Nazareth. All three examples include a form of paternal instinct, with a moral teaching and instruction. This could be perceived to be a Typological example of theology that is using related stories to that of which is in the Bible to understand what it means to be oppressed.
We can also see clear references to a symbol of oppression. That the foxes are being hunted, sought after as food for their human hunters Bean and Boggis. Therefore, we can begin to look at the text from the lens of an Allegorical theological context where we see a symbol of what later would be perceived to be a transformation from a suicide mission to a rescue mission. The foxes determination to defeat the humans, to save their possessions, protect his family and to work together with the other animals shows a beautiful example of unification and diversity within the group of wild animals that are present in the foxes neighborhood.
Without going too far outside of the text and ruining the story, the foxes are trying to survive. Mr. Foxes decision to dig is to dig, not one of great possibility and this leads to Mrs. Fox refusing to risk returning to the surface already. However, there is hope and the family have a sense, that together they will overcome the situation and survive despite their clear struggle and starvation. Where does their hope come from? How will theory get out of the situation? This is where a childlike creativity can be drawn to a higher power, to a that can be rescued and redeemed.
Finally, we can see a pattern of a future through the idea of hope that the son who asks the question if there is a way out. The hope that the Son has in the Father to release them from the situation is symbolic of the same faith that Jesus placed in his heavenly father as we read in the New Testament in John 3:16. The gives the family hope for the future, as we read in Jeremiah 29:10, that the Lord has a plan and a purpose for the fox's life. Similar to how Yahweh had a plan and a purpose for Jonah’s life after he spent three days in the big fish mouth.
Old Testament Passage Jonah 1:17, 2:10
Our first Biblical passage comes from Jonah where we read of a sacrifice. God redeems Jonah from the depths of a fish. This comes after his reluctance to travel to Nineveh, where God would ultimately send him to perform his redemptive work.
“Now the Lord supplied a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.'
'The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” And the Lord commanded the fish, and its vomited Jonah onto dry land (Jonah 1:17, 2:1-10).”
Jonah is bizarrely thrown into the mouth of a big fish for three days and three nights. Exactly the same time that Fantastic Mr. Fox and family were down in the tunnel! We see parallel with the distress and despair both the Fox family and Jonah find themselves in. However, Jonah was prepared for this situation and although it happened in a similar way with immediate circumstances, the role of redemption and resurrection are not clear for the Foxes.
However, we see here in the Book of Jonah that when God redeems Jonah, through bringing him out of the fish in 2:10, he is vomited to the surface. This is a clear allegorical reference. Perhaps God is sick of the complaints, confusion, and mistrust of Jonah. So much as he wants to discipline him, but not to harm him. We see a place of comfort through Jonah's safe keeping, but from a literal perspective he has been thrown up!
God has spewed out one of his creation from another, out of a big fish comes a human being. The opposite of the fox and the humans. God turn the animal into the one in control and places the human at his mercy. Whereas Mr. Fox and his family are at the mercy of their human oppressors. This is a clear symbol of the pain that Jonah has not only caused God, but to his people and himself through his own deliberate fault.
We can also see examples of the moral story as God shows that he can redeem his people. Even when they are not righteous God can turn all things together for good and help the even the lowliest of humans, the most dangerous of situations and turn it around for the good of those who love him. Jonah is protected, perhaps much like God seeks to protect all his people, and he redeems them with a hope of resuscitation and a miraculous recovery. Various scholars define this story as an example of apocalyptic Old Testament. Through Jonah’s experience and relating it to a moral sense we can see the unrighteousness of humanity and the moral justice of God.
New Testament Passage Matthew 12:38-40
We are constantly seeing a reference to hope, to redemption and to rescue. Both in the story of Mr. Fox and his family and Gods master rescue plan to save Jonah from the Big fish we see hope. Mr. Foxes son display this hope in his desire for his Dad to supply a rescue mission for the family to survive.
Furthermore, we see hope that God can redeem all human being, all his creation including all the wild animals in the story of Fantast Mr. Fox. We are then left to seek to find a big rescue plan, a son to save by his Father. In the New Testament passage of Matthew, we hear of such hope, of such a rescue plan and through Jesus Christ we know that God will bring hope through John 3:16, where God sacrifices his one and only son to save all his creation.
“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:38-40).
We finally see the hope that Fantastic Mr. Foxes son sees as a possibility, as a lifeline and as a way out of the mess that they got themselves into. In Jonah he knew he would end up in a similar situation to being swallowed whole by a fish to his reluctance. To obey God, but here we see that Jesus has full intention to fulfill his work, to obey God and to sacrifice himself on a cross for humanity.
However, Jesus, much like fantastic Mr. Foxes son must have had his doubts. The parallelism that Jesus uses in his own explanation of his story through the story of Jonah personifies allegoric theological senses. Jesu knew the story of the Old Testament, and he even has an Anagogical mindset to the future, by defining his own demise from a picture towards his death, but the situation would ultimately be resolved through God’s justice and his mercy would prevail and redeem all humanity and creation through the raising, resurrection and new eternal life promised through Gods one and only son being sacrificed for us all.
This reflection helps me to understand, to be able to interpret Children’s literature and relate it to sharing the Gospel. Through this paper we can see the relationship between the hope of Fantastic Mr. Foxes son to see the possibility of their death to be redeemed by a higher being. Ultimately, Mr. Foxes son looked to have hope through his earthly Father, but much like Jonah he did not understand the full story. Through the use of allegorical symbols and stories we see hope in uncertainty.
The hope that humanity is released through Jesus Christ is possible to understand through story telling. That by sharing a story of hope, a journey from the bottom of the tunnel, to be raised to life, from the depth of the inside of a big fish and from death in a grave to celebrate victory over death. That Jesus has overcome the grave, that he has defeated death and the King is alive. Fantastic Mr. Fox is not God, but through his story, the hope that his son has in him and the hope that his sons question brings to our hearts we are warmed that even in books, even it telling today even in films starring George Clooney and Bill Murray we can see ways that the Gospel is being preached. Thank you, Roald Dahl, thank Jonah, thank you Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Books and Lectures Used:
Roald Dahl, Quinten Blake, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” 2007, Chapter 9, Paperback, Penguin Books
Daniel McClain, 2019, Lecture on Introduction to Children's Literature, General Theological Seminary, Online Lecture through Populi and via Zoom.
Saint Augustine, 1997, “On Christian Teaching”, Oxford Publishing.
Bible Gateway. Accessed: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jonah+1%3A17-2%3A%210&version=NIV
Bible Gateway. Accessed: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+12%3A38-40&version=NIV
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