Pride and Prejudice

I’m thankful to be a part of a church where the pastor has the courage and the faith to provoke his congregation to love. He not only teaches through the words of his sermons, but through his attitude, humility, and compassion. We have been studying the book of James over the last month or so, and this past week’s sermon dealt with James 2:1-13, which says:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Although in the context of the people James was writing to the issue was accepting a rich person with favoritism, Pastor Bill contextualized it for us by flipping it around. (I think, in part, because we, unlike the early church, are rich.) We are likely to have prejudices towards certain types of people, whether they be different ethnically, racially, economically, sexuality, theologically, or even in gender. He spent some time explaining Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink which in part discusses about our prejudices toward blacks and whites. We have prejudices than unintentionally creep up into our perceptions of people. They affect how we treat people, how we act around people, and how we think.

He gave examples of some of the prejudices he’s had to confront in his own life. He was very honest. The way he discussed his prejudices was appropriate and helpful. (And in my opinion, that’s a hard thing to do.) He talked about how he regretted that a woman answered the phone at a car mechanics because he didn’t think that a woman would know as much about car repair as a man would. He mentioned how when he hears a person with a southern accent, he for some reason assumes that they are not as intelligent as a person with a northern accent. He explained his discomfort when he first moved into Andersonville and mingled with the sizable LGBTQ community that exists there.

He’s had to confront himself about these. And he challenged us to do the same. In the church setting he explained that we shouldn’t give preferential treatment to people we agree with or have prejudice towards those we are not like. He gave the example of how charismatics and non-charismatics react toward each other. He mentioned how people feel toward those in the LGBTQ community. And it was here that I felt he was being bold, knowing that people may feel uncomfortable or that he is caving to the culture by saying that we should not judge those in the LGBTQ community, but love them.

He talked about how the church’s stance on traditional marriage hasn’t changed, but that doesn’t affect our ability to love others. He talked about what it was like to go to gay parties for the first time after moving into Andersonville. It was uncomfortable for him at first, but then he realized that these people are people. They are made in the image of God just the same as any other person. They have the same fears, issues, and goals as we all do. And then he said something that shouldn’t be ground-shaking or incredibly insightful, but in the current evangelical culture we just don’t hear it like we should.

We don’t have to agree with people to love them.

To love others doesn’t mean we agree with everything they do, believe, say, or think. But in a Christian culture that splits and splinters over minor theological and even non-theological differences, the statement is truly counter-cultural. And yes, that’s very sobering. But growing up with a father who was quick to judge others and after spending four years submersed in the Independent, Fundamentalist, KJV-only, Baptist crowd in Pensacola, Florida this was so refreshing that I found myself overcome with emotion during the service. Tears welled up.

It just shouldn’t be a profound statement within the church to say that the fact that someone is not like us shouldn’t change the fact that we should love them with the love of Jesus Christ. But right now, here in 2014 – it is.

So he challenged us to look in ourselves. What prejudices do we have — even unintentionally? We must learn to confront those prejudices and overcome them by loving all people. If we are blind to our own prejudices, then we should make an intentional effort to love all people well. We must determine to love others better.

If we judge people, James explains that we can expect to be judged in the same manner that we judge others. Mercy is better than judgment. I believe it is better to be quick to love others and give mercy than it is to judge others. As I have said before, it is better to err in love than it is to err in haste judgement. We should love others the way we want God to love us.

Jesus was pretty clear about this as well in His “Sermon on the Mount.” In the Lord’s prayer, something many people have memorized, there is this statement:

And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

That’s a dangerous thing to pray to God for someone who is not very forgiving.

Jesus also says this later in his sermon:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

It seems pretty clear. James says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Our daily challenge to ourselves should be to be loving others better, resisting judgment. The judgments that we should be making are those of our own hearts. That’s a hard thing to do, though. It’s a scary thing to do. It’s a lot easier to just compare ourselves to others or to judge others whom we deem as worse than ourselves. We should pray that very vulnerable and dangerous prayer that David prayed to God in Psalm 139:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.”

And then we should ask for the mercy we need as David did in Psalm 51:

“Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.”

To do this requires vulnerability before God, it requires us to be honest with ourselves, and both of vulnerability and honesty require humility. Pride is what leads us to judge, to be unforgiving, to not have mercy. We can’t be prideful and truly love well. So maybe we should start by praying for the ability to humble ourselves before others and before God.

A Good Statement on Friendship

A Good Statement on Friendship

I’m currently taking a class entitled “Gender Issues in Counseling” and we were assigned to read a book that is specifically addressed to the opposite gender. So all the men in the class read a book that was written with a woman audience in mind. All the women read a book written for men. It’s a way to hear what is being written on the popular broadly evangelical level for specific genders. Usually these books are minimally helpful and perpetuate issues between the genders. However, I think I chose a pretty decent book. It is called Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices.

I could list a whole bunch of quotes from the book that I find to be incredibly insightful or even convicting, but I was delighted to read a few places in which they really focus on the importance of friendship in one’s life. I couldn’t agree more and it has been somewhat of a soapbox issue for me in times past. We devalue the role of intimate friendships and idolize the marriage relationship. Anyway, here’s a brief passage from the book that I liked:

Yet, ironically and sadly, if anything, friendship is undervalued and even suspected at times. The broader American culture and the evangelical subculture have almost made a god of marriage and family; young people are pressured early to “get going” in this direction. One of my students said, “We’re told generally that it’s important to have friends, but no one talks about the value of lasting friendships.” She added, “Everyone talks about ‘authentic community’ but the specific benefits of friendship are not included in the discussion.” In fact, as another young woman noted, “friendship is not even addressed; everything else seems to be more important.” It is no wonder then that one often sees women diminishing, neglecting, and even dropping their friendships with other women for the sake of their dating lives, putting a pressure and expectation on the dating process it cannot sustain or may even be crippled by. How often I have heard girls tell me that they seldom see a good friend anymore because “she’s dating.” And too often, women accept that loss because it has come to seem appropriate, even expected. Friendship is sacrificed to the culturally prioritized romantic relationship, not appreciated for the inestimable contribution it makes to a fully realized life.

Affirming the problem, Eugene Peterson writes that “friendship is a much underestimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy.” Peterson then refers to the much-addressed friendship between David and Jonathan and says that it was “essential to David’s life.” In fact, he adds, “It’s highly unlikely that David could have persisted in serving Saul without the friendship of Jonathan…. Jonathan’s friendship entered David’s soul in a way that Saul’s hatred never did.”

Friends have been true mirrors to me, showing me myself, reflecting back to me an ugly spot in my soul, and reminding me of something good I had thought or done when I couldn’t remember. Friends have told me the truth about a direction I was headed or a relationship I had chosen. They have brought me back from the brink of disaster. Friends have prayed for me faithfully when I was sick, when I was overwhelmed by too great a task. Friends have written notes at just the right time, made a phone call, or come for a visit. With friends I have had the great conversations of my life. Those friends have been younger, older, and my age; few of them have had the same education or occupation as I have. More than anything, my best friends have always been mutual, receiving and giving, listening and talking, and above all remembering—remembering what is important to me and asking the right questions. I am fortunate to have a number of friendships still present in my life that go back decades, some of them to my childhood, a number to my young adulthood. They call to mind my history, the geography of my life’s events, and more important, they preserve the map of my mind and spirit.”

De Rosset, Rosalie (2012-07-24). Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices (Kindle Locations 2510-2532). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We Receive So That We Might Give

We Receive So That We Might Give

A simple concept that arises frequently in the Bible is that we receive various blessings so that we might be able to give and share our blessings with others, whether it be love, wisdom, comfort, money, food, or labor. If we care about those around us, we will not hoard the various riches that we receive or even earn through good hard work. We work so that we might give to those in need.

Continue reading “We Receive So That We Might Give”

What are we so afraid of?

What are we so afraid of?

Seminary is often called cemetery. This is because people who have lively Christian lives come to seminary and then are pummeled by high academic work and strong challenges to beliefs, convictions, and lifestyles. But for me seminary has been an experience of equipping, emboldening, and empowering. I have indeed been challenged philosophically, emotionally, and spiritually (and sometimes physically through long nights). But, after coming from an environment which was devoted to only studying one point of view and not looking at other claims or viewpoints, coming to a seminary which allows for theological differences was at first a challenge, but ultimately a blessing. I have professors which are strong 5-point Calvinists. I have professors which are strong 5 point Arminians. Eschatological views are all over the map among students and faculty, and so on and so forth.  The view of my college was that if you have the truth, why spend time looking at things you know are not true? This has some legitimacy to it. The rationale went something like this: When the U.S. Government identifies counterfeit money it does not spend time looking at all the different counterfeit bills. They study the true bills so meticulously that when they come across a counterfeit, it is obvious. Now I don’t know if that is actually true, but it does sound reasonable. But it really doesn’t hold weight when we are thinking about theological issues, doctrines, traditions, and opinions. To say we know the truth about every doctrine, even ones which are not that clear in Scripture, seems a bit presumptuous, and perhaps a bit ridiculous. There are doctrines which have been hotly debated by Christians who are fully committed to biblical ennerancy for a couple thousand years. These people want to know the truth of Scripture and obey it. Yet, over the centuries people have disagreed, fought, and sadly have killed over differences in beliefs. This has nearly always occured when people think that their view is the only possible view and that any other view is heresy.

Now of course it is true that there is typically only one TRUE interpretation when looking at Scripture. Most of the time the correct interpretation is so clear that there truly leaves little serious debate or doubt. However, there do arise passages in Scripture that are ambiguous enough to have multiple legitimate interpretations. There is a correct interpretation. There could be a handful of interpretations, but ultimately there is only ONE  true interpretation. There also is the possibility that no one has the correct interpretation when everyone thinks that they, or their tradition, has THE correct interpretation. Hence, as we continue to understand the original languages, context, and historical setting of the various books of the Bible, we are understanding Scripture better and better.

Something that has really helped me deal with various traditions, viewpoints, and interpretations has been a statement made by Chrysostom. He said,

In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Jesus Christ.”

As Christians we need to learn that God is big and that He cannot be put under our thumb. We do not know nearly as much as we think we do about God, and we are not as smart as we think we are. How we live is directly affected by how we view God. We many times love to think we know why exactly God does things. We love to think that we have God all figured out and that Christianity really is not all that complex. But this is not a reality. Sure, aspects of Christianity are simple, salvation by faith alone seems simple enough, but the Christian life is complex. We live in a world of sin, despair, tragedy, hurt, and suffering. The Christian is called to be different. As the world is entrenched in sin and despair, the Christian has be broken from that sin. The Christian is now not to be conformed to the ways of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind through the power of the Gospel. We are the light of the world, and a light set on a hill cannot be hid.

To be able to combat the world’s philosophy and hedonism, we must be thoroughly studied up in the Scriptures. We must know the commands and precepts of the Bible, and find delight in doing them. We must desire Godly wisdom and not turn our ears from it. We must hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Unfortunately, what happens many times is that as we meditate on Scripture and hear sermons from people we respect and formulate our own personal systematic theologies, we can give too much dominance to our own personal interpretations. We end up becoming so attached to some of our theology that to have it challenged is a personal attack of our person. But we must remember, the renewing of our mind must come from Scripture, not theological frameworks. If we equate theological traditions with the authority of Scripture, we have taken a step in the wrong direction. We are giving too much weight to man’s organization of what Scripture says. (Side note: I am completely a fan of systematic theology, I am just saying that we need to be careful to not let one system which makes sense to us determine how we interpret the Bible. We must remember to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture and to allow a specific passage to be seen in its own context).

This brings me to my main point:

If we honestly desire to know truth, no truth claims should scare us

What is our authority, Scripture or our own theology? Many times we can grow up in a biblical tradition that makes sense. Various passages of Scripture are explained in such a way which all bend toward a certain theological position. And oftentimes when we have held to a specific theological tradition and then find it being challenged we get defensive. In some cases, people begin to doubt their entire faith because of a tension within one aspect of their theological framework/worldview.

This is easily seen in tragedy. Take, for example, a horrible car crash in which a husband loses both his daughter and his wife. Most would assume that because this is such a horrible tragedy the husband would begin to doubt the true goodness or sovereignty of God. Ironically, this is not typically the case. It is typically the friends of the family, or other various family members whose faith and theology have been shaken that they are uncomfortable with a God that would allow this to happen.

A prime biblical example is Job. God wiped out everything that Job had — his family, all his possessions, and even his health. Satan assumed that Job only worshiped God because He had blessed Job so immensely. But after all this tragedy had taken place, the first thing Job did was fall to his knees and worship God. How could this be? It seems so counter intuitive. Job obviously was upset. He sat silently for a week in sackcloth and ashes, the symbol of sorrow and misery. But he was not alone. Job had friends. They were also initially quiet with Job. But as they sat silently, they obviously were trying to contemplate how such a thing could possibly happen. Job was righteous and he feared God. In fact, they probably could not think of one thing that he had done wrong. He was blameless, and continued to be throughout these horrible days of his life.

But to his friends, this just didn’t fit their theology. How could this happen to Job? There must be some reason this happened. So Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, began to question Job. In doing so they exemplified their devotion to their personal understanding of who God is and why He does things. Surely God would have to have a reason to do such or to allow such horrible things to happen to him. Surely their own theologies were right, and therefore Job must have done something wrong to deserve this. In doing this the three friends question and interrogate Job – doubting his blamelessness and sincerity.

In the end, the friends of Job were truly not friends at all. They were critical. They were accusing. They were kicking a man while he was down, and ultimately led Job down the path of bitterness towards God. They were lovers of their own theology more than lovers of God. They assumed that because Job was suffering, he must have done something to deserve it. They assumed this because that was what they had already believed about how God worked. But, what they didn’t know was what the reader is privileged to know — that God and Satan made a “bet” over whether or not Job would bless or curse Him even when he did not have all the blessings from God. Also something to note, God never let Job in on why it all happened either. He was left, like many are today, not knowing exactly why things happen. In Job’s case he suffered BECAUSE he was righteous. It was the exact opposite of what his friends thought.

We should learn from this ourselves. Do we try and make everything fit into our theological framework or are do we allow life to help us better understand who God is? Are we okay with trusting that God is good and not knowing why God does everything that He does? And we must learn not to make the same mistake that Job’s friends did — to defend their own theology, when they should have been supportive of their friend, perhaps by simply keeping their mouths shut. God does not need to be defended. People who go through terrible tragedies will often tell you this. They don’t need their theologies reassured, they need simple support and love. Job’s friends were not defending Job or helping him, they were trying to help themselves.

I give Job’s story as an example of how we can become married to our own theologies rather than simply trusting God. They let their personal convictions come between them and a friend in need. And many times we make the same mistakes. And it happens with the most fundamental conservatives as well as the liberal leaning evangelical. For the fundamentalist in the pursuit of purity, people are rejected, scorned, and discord is sewn. For the evangelical in the pursuit of unity, people are mocked, criticized, and pushed away. That’s what happens when we hold too strongly onto our own convictions and doctrines — people are hurt.

Something that has become abundantly clear to me is that we as the body of Christ need each other. We can’t do it by ourselves. With all of the various traditions and denominations, no one has it completely figured out. We need each other for accountability and to not fall into one locked theology in which we use as a lens for interpreting the Bible. The Bible must be kept as the focal point and lens by which we examine one another and our interpretations of the Bible.

But some reject such an idea, and I believe the root cause of this rejection is not truly a desire for purity. It is fear. Whenever people are challenged in their beliefs, especially long held beliefs, they get defensive. It is natural. And I believe it is definitely forgivable. We all do it. It’s practically inevitable. But that is even more reason for why we need to be exposed to other viewpoints. We may be surprised at how much we become sharpened in our faith if we allow for our defenses to be let down a bit and to honestly hear out another take on a passage we have understood in another way.

There are things which are the non-negotiables, so to speak. These would be considered dogma – the things which make Christianity what it is, the orthodox beliefs passed down through the centuries. For example, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the crucifixion and atonement of sins, the resurrection of Christ, etc. These things are pillars which are not to be compromised upon. These are the uniting orthodox doctrines of true Christianity throughout the centuries.

There are doctrines which we hold dear, and are still foundational to our theology, but are not necessary for salvation. These things are firmly held within various traditions of the church, but can be disagreed upon if their is biblical merit for such a disagreement. This is what makes many people uncomfortable and it takes spiritual maturity to have honest conversations about differences in these areas. Examples of such doctrines would be how baptism should be done, how communion should be done, etc. Differences in these types of doctrines are extremely important for various traditions. It is also something not to be taken lightly. People have died for some of these differences because they have felt them to be dogmatic. Honest conversation is a hard thing to do, and it takes humility.

There are also various convictions that people hold about how to live the Christian life. These are things like strict music standards, strict dress standards (skirts for girls), not going to movie theaters, not drinking alcohol, using the King James Version, etc. These are things which are convictions. Many people scoff at such things. In fact, I lived in such an environment and lived by such rules through four years of college. But as I lived in this environment and thought through the issues, I realized that these were the were “weaker bretheren.” They would most likely not agree with that statement, but I wholeheartedly believe it. And once I came to that conclusion, it helped me understand how to relate and navigate in such an environment. But these convictions are important because it is in these convictions that people are able to serve God where they are at in their walk with Christ. They love and serve Christ, too.

God is amazingly merciful. He uses people which are all over the map theologically. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but if we are honest with ourselves we’d admit that we don’t really have everything figured out. There are doctrines that we hold to and believe because that is just the way we had it presented to us, and it makes sense that way. And we love to hold onto the things that just make sense to us, or to things that our pastor always taught. But we don’t have it all figured out, and neither does any one tradition. We need to be humbled by this fact. We many times like to think that God uses us because we do have Him figured out (so we think). God uses us because He wants to be made known among all people. And He uses those willing and submitted to Him to proclaim His word. Remember how Paul explained us in 1 Corinthians? He uses us, who are generally foolish and simple, to confound the wise.

Oftentimes when we see God using people who don’t seem to believe the same things as we do, we get all defensive and emotional — perhaps even scared. But this should not scare us. This should encourage us as we grow in our own relationship with God. This should simply drive us to the Scriptures and check scholarship and truth claims against what the Bible says. We have the truth — revelation from God through man. We should not be alarmed. And scholarship about the text helps us understand the original context in which Scripture was written. And as we find out or discover aspects of our faith which are incorrect, or built upon faulty premises, we should have the honesty to change our opinions and convictions based upon the TEXT rather than change the text based upon our CONVICTIONS. But sometimes that is hard for people to do. It is uncomfortable, but if we want to truly worship God, we have to be intellectually honest.

If we have the truth, no truth claims should scare us.

We have the truth given to us in Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit to help guide and illuminate us. We have the example of Jesus Christ in how to live and to relate to others. These are amazing gifts to us which should be the foundation of our faith and understanding.

Because of these objective truths, we should not be afraid of others who CLAIM to have truth. There have been many who have claimed things which seem to be contrary to what we know and believe traditionally. Initially, I believe it is okay to have “red flags” go off in our heads when there is something presented by someone that appears to be contrary with what we know about Scripture. But it shouldn’t SCARE us. We shouldn’t live in fear of those who seem to be making truth claims.

I believe they initially should quickly be considered, held up to Scripture, and then categorized as legitimate or illegitimate. Our initial reaction should not be fear. If someone is preaching falsehood, then we should indeed point them out, and explain why. But we should not just run away from the conversation. That is not healthy. And to just simply label something as heretical is not intellectually honest. We need to consider things in a very honest manner.

Earlier in the year there was an amazing amount of attention put upon Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins. In this book Rob Bell challenges the traditional views of hell. Initially people seemed to react with fear, anger, and hatred. Then there was the second wave of people reacting to the reactors with anger and disappointment. But this was all caused because anger and fear were the initial reactions. We simply need to interact with each other in charity and in honesty. (Of course Rob Bell does seem to try stir up controversy, so he can take part of the blame as well…)

My point is that if we have the truth (and we do) then we shouldn’t be scared of truth claims. If we draw attention to the false claims in fear and anger, then we do nothing but hurt ourselves and our faith. If they are not true, then we should explain why they are not biblical and move on.

Claiming to know it all…

We like to think we have God figured out. And many times we act like we do have God figured out. I believe we have to be careful of claiming to know why God does what He does. Remember, God is infinite and therefore we could not possibly know why God does all He does. I personally believe we should not try and define the working of God in short pithy statements. But people do it all the time. Famous preachers and teachers do it all the time.

John Piper, to me, is notorious for doing this. He summarizes much of why God does what He does through simple, easy to remember one-liners. They sound good. They seem biblically sound, but is it the whole truth? Can God really be summarized by the fact that He does EVERYTHING for His glory? Can missions really be summarized by saying that “missions exists because worship doesn’t?” To me, John Piper seems to be claiming to know why God does all that He does. And of course he backs his arguments with Scripture, but what else is he leaving out? We need to be careful that even in our theological statements we aren’t putting God in our own theological box. I believe we always need to be recognizing that God is bigger than we can truly describe, and He cannot be put under our thumbnail.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I appreciate MUCH of what Piper says and does and what he stands for. But sometimes Piper can be a bit too heavy handed in his theology and discount much of what others bring to the table. There needs to be a balace. There needs to be grace and mercy in our conversations with people. We have a lot to learn from Piper and his insights, but I believe that he also has a lot to learn from others’ points of view as well.

Ultimately my point is if we believe in God and His sovereignty, then we should not be afraid. God loves us. He makes that clear over and over in His word. He wants us to know Him intimately, and we can thanks to His Son Jesus Christ. There is no reason to live in fear. For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Let’s focus on those because fear has no place in the person of faith.

Learning how to love God

Sometimes some of the simplest concepts are some of the most transformational.

Assuming you are a Christian, if someone asked you if you loved God, how would you respond? I’m guessing you would more than likely say yes, right? But what if that same person asked you, “How do you love God?” or “Can you prove it?” How would you respond then? Would you give them a list of things that you do that somehow proves that you love God?

I go to church regularly. I pray from time to time. I put some money in the offering plate. I’m in seminary. I went on a missions trip. I read the Bible. I memorize Bible verses from time to time. I sing worship songs. I fast.

Or would you give them a list of things that you DON’T do?

I don’t do drugs. I don’t get drunk. I don’t swear. I don’t break the law. I don’t sleep around. I don’t…

Nice lists. But do they prove that you love God?

No.

Okay. This is something that I have been thinking about recently. I got to this point just a few days ago. It seemed kind of ridiculous. I mean, I love God. I know I love God. But is knowing good enough?

Wow. My quest for transparency and honesty with myself and God just got a bit depressing. What does it mean to love God, and how do we do it?

Through means of conversations, classes, and recent Bible readings I worked through a lot of thoughts and concerns to have it all boil down to one simple truth: by loving people.

Indeed, the way we love God is by loving people. Or rather, as Dr. Osborne, my NT professor said it,

“The way we love people is the way we love God.”

A simple concept, which contains a deeply useful and practical truth. After I heard Dr. Osborne say that, things started to make sense. I sat in my class thinking, Why have I never really thought of it like this before? It’s so simple…

Or so I thought.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized its truth. Especially in the context of the Epistle of James, which was the book we were discussing in class. To me it seems that James deeply cares about whether or not we love all people, but especially those who cannot take care of themselves, making claims that pure and true religion is taking care of the widows and the orphans (James 1:27). He calls out against being partial to people based on external things such as appearance or amount of material wealth (James 2:1-10). He condemns our ability to curse someone made in the likeness of God and then give praises with the same tongue to that God who made those people in His own likeness (James 3:9). And it is at this point that I realized the deeper truth of the matter at hand. We don’t really see most people as being made in God’s likeness. (To see more on the topic of being made in God’s image, see a previous blog post).

It’s really quite a strange thing. We all struggle in this area in some degree. Some find it easy to love the down and out, the hungry homeless man on a downtown street of Chicago, or a widow who needs her driveway shoveled. It seems obvious to love these sorts of people, while others can’t even walk past the beggar asking for some change without feeling awkward and uncomfortable. For some, to love their fellow Christian brother or sister is natural, while for others, fellow Christians are some of the people they despise the most.

I realized this while sitting in class. As Dr. Osborne was mentioning this concept to the class a student raised his hand to ask a question. This student interrupted Dr. Osborne at a time during the class period in which he was trying to quickly move through his lecture to make up for lost time. The student also unfortunately asked a question that was not relevant to the point at hand, and Dr. Osborne quickly answered the question and said that we needed to move on with the lecture. I know nothing about this student, except for the fact that this is not the first time that he has asked a question not in line with the lecture, and that he is a bit quirky. But at the time that he asked the question, the students at the table to my left starting mocking and joking about the student. And as I sat there I had two thoughts that came to mind:

One was: I cannot believe this. Dr. Osborne JUST said ‘the way we love people is the way we love God.’ Yet less than two minutes later these guys are already mocking someone made in the image of God, made in God’s likeness. I mean…are they deaf? Do they not LOVE GOD?

The other was: Wow, Andrew! You are pretty dense. You just realized this truth yourself, and you are already judging other people. Five minutes ago you were blind to this concept, and you expect everyone to understand it just as quickly as you realized it? If this simple concept just sank in with you, what other things are you missing that are also just as basic and relevant as LOVING PEOPLE?

In the end however, this stands as a simple yet deep truth. Jesus Christ said that the way people can know that we are his disciples is whether or not we love one another (John 13:34-35 – He also said to love people as he loved us). John said that the way we love Jesus is to obey his commandments (1 John 5:3). What did Jesus say the two greatest commandments were? To love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:25-28).

If we truly begin to see people as being made in God’s likeness, then we are well on our way to being able to love people. For me this has been quite transformational. We need to love people for who they are: the image of God. I believe that this is HUGE. It influences so much of our practical Christianity. If we are loving people for who they are, we are very unlikely to judge them. If we see people as made in God’s likeness, the respect and love will be well received by non-Christians, and unity will more likely result within Christian communities.

When we see people as made in God’s image, we give them dignity and value. This helps shape our understanding of issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and war. If we understand people to be made in God’s image, it should affect whether we kill them. For me, this is one of the main reasons why I believe human life is so sacred, and should be protected.

There is more that could be said at this point, and a look at some key texts would probably be very helpful for this discussion. But I have found this to be quite helpful in my daily life as I try to learn what it means to love God, and how to show Him and others that our love is not merely a cognitive thing, but is an integral part of what it means to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ.

You can love people without loving God, but you can’t love God without loving people.

A look at the “Image of God”

A look at the “Image of God”

The biblical motif of the image of God, also known as the imago Dei, is a concept encountered early on in Scripture. It has been a part of major theological discussions for nearly two thousand years and its implications are important and widespread. Yet, at the same time the image of God is mentioned only a few times in the Bible, and is rarely specific. In trying to understand the image of God, certain questions arise: What does the Bible say about the image of God? What have theologians historically thought about the image of God? What are the implications of the different perspectives? These questions will be addressed as the image of God is looked at from a biblical, historical, and contemporary perspective. The biblical motif of the image of God is important to understand because it has great theological significance and important implications in how one relates to his neighbor and to God.

BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE

The image of God is clearly foundational to the biblical understanding of humanness and personhood. However, for being such a foundational doctrine, it really is not explicitly explained in Scripture. This has left theologians, exegetes, and scholars throughout the centuries to debate various interpretations of the passages in which it is mentioned. What is known for sure about the image of God is that humans are in some way like God. The Bible does not take the time to explicitly explain how man is like God. It merely tells us that he is indeed like God. In order to understand in what ways man is like God, one has to know what God is like. That understanding comes from discovering who He is throughout Scripture.[1]

Relevant Passages

There are really only a total of five very relevant passages in the Bible which help give the clearest understanding of how man is like God (Gen 1:26-27, 5:1, 9:6; 1 Cor 11:7; Jam 3:9). There are other passages such as Psalm 8 which indirectly talk about the image of God, but these five passages are the most explicit and the most helpful. The most often referenced passage, and rightly so, is Gen 1:26-27. Here the first human beings are seen made in the image of their Creator. God had created everything up to this point, including all the animals. Yet here there is a change in the pattern. Here, God references Himself and says “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (ESV).” This change in structure indicates the fact that man is truly in a class of his own.[2] Verse 27 says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Here it is seen that not only man is made in the image of God, but both male and females are made in God’s image.

Genesis 5:1 affirms the fact that man was made in God’s image. Genesis 9:6 makes application of the truth by stating that murder is wrong because of the fact that man bears God’s image. The important aspect to note is that this commandment is mentioned post-fall showing that the image of God was not lost at the fall.

In the New Testament there are two texts which explicitly address the image of God as it is understood in Genesis 1:26-27. The word “image” is used 23 times, while “likeness” only appears once (Jam 3:9). There are ten references to image in Revelation and one in Hebrews which are not relevant in this context. There are nine occurrences in the Pauline letters, but only 1 Corinthians 11:7 is explicitly connected with the Genesis account.[3] In the Corinthians usage Paul is explaining that a man must not cover his head because he is the image of God, whereas a woman should cover her head because she is the glory of the man. Here, it is important to note two things: 1) Man is explained as not having the image of God, or being made in the image of God, but being the image of God. 2) Women, even though they are explained here as man’s glory, also are equally the image of God, as stated in Genesis 1:27. However, it is through the man that a woman shares in God’s image.[4]

When Paul refers to the word image, he usually is referring to our humanity which we have inherited from Adam, and which is transformed by Christ. He does not use it as the link that man has with God, which is very much how it is used in Genesis 1:26.[5]

James 3:9 is the only passage in the New Testament that explicitly mentions man’s “likeness” to God. Here James makes an argument similar to the one made in Genesis 9:6. Man should not be cursed with the tongue because they are made in God’s likeness.

The Gospels do not have a definitive passage which discusses the image or likeness of man to God. But in Matthew 22:20, Mark 12:16, and Luke 20:24 Jesus mentions man’s image when discussing paying taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees had tried to trap Him in His words, but Jesus asks them whose “image” is on the coin. They answer that it is Caesar on the coin. Jesus then says, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21 NIV).” Here Jesus could be intending to imply that just as the coins belonged to Caesar because his image was on them, so humans belong to God because His image is in them. This is not explicitly expressed, however, and so one cannot build too much upon these passages.[6]

Defining the Image of God

The task of defining the image of God is challenging because of its vagueness and scarceness within Scripture. Scripture just does not explicitly define the image of God. So perhaps it is better to define it as vaguely as Scripture does, while bringing out a few observations: 1) The image of God is a permanent aspect of all humans, not affected by the fall (Gen 9:6); 2) the image of God distinguishes us from other creatures and is a special characteristic of  humans (Gen 1:26); 3) both males and females are like God equally (Gen 1:27, 1 Cor 11:7); and 4) people are not to be degraded or killed because the image of God gives them value and dignity (Gen 9:6; Jam 3:9). These are generalizations that can be made from what Scripture gives explicitly. Of course, there are inferences which can be made from these passages and other less explicit passages to help in understanding of the image of God.

HISTORICAL INTERPRETATIONS

Throughout the centuries theologians have attempted to further define what the image of God truly is in man, and to thresh out its implications. In attempts to further define the image of God they go beyond the biblical text, but do use Scripture and logic to back their conclusions. However, there are many variations and differing conclusions of what it means to be made in God’s image and whether that image was damaged or removed by the fall.

Irenaeus

 

Irenaeus believed that man was created in the image of God and in His likeness, but at the fall the likeness of God was lost while the image of God remained. He believed that this lost likeness of God can be restored. It occurs in believers through the process of redemption.[7] Irenaeus believed that it is only through Christ that a believer can be restored in likeness to God because Christ makes him one with God the Father.[8]

The image of God according to Irenaeus meant man’s “nature as a rational and free being, a nature which was not lost at the fall.”[9] The likeness was the “robe of sanctity” that the Holy Spirit had given to Adam.[10] Believers therefore have a body, soul, and spirit while unbelievers have only a body and a soul. This separation of image and likeness would be accepted for centuries and be very influential in the conventional understanding the image of God.

Augustine

Augustine saw the clause “Let us make man in our image” as a reference to the Trinity. This, he felt, it had implications for the threefold nature of the human soul.[11] He also understood the image and the likeness to be two separate ideas. The image was the knowledge of the truth while the likeness was the love of virtue. He argued that if they meant the same thing, there would only be need for one word.[12]

Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas also saw the image and likeness as two separate concepts. The image itself is rationality. Man was created with this ability, with this image of God. After man was created God gave him an extra gift, a donum superadditum, the likeness, understood as original righteousness. Therefore, man is understood not to have been created righteous per se, but was morally neutral. Adam’s fall resulted in the loss of this original righteousness. He fell back to that original moral level in which he was created. It is in this state that man, because of his free will, is able in some way to please God.[13] This interpretation would be hugely influential in the Roman Catholic Church and still is even unto this day.

Aquinas believed that the image of God does exist in some sense in all people, just at different intensities. He simply believed the image of God is not always equally as bright in all people. Aquinas’ view limits the image to the realm of man’s intellectual nature. He had a weak view of the fall’s seriousness and of the goodness of man before the fall.[14]

Martin Luther

For over fifteen centuries the image and likeness found in Genesis 1:26 were generally believed to be two separate ideas. Whole doctrines and philosophies were born and based from this understanding. It was not until the 16th century that the skilled exegete Martin Luther explained that the two ideas were in fact not different at all.[15] Luther explained that the “image” and “likeness” in Genesis 1:26 do not have different referents and that this is simply a common instance of Hebrew parallelism. Therefore, there truly is no significant difference between image and likeness.[16]

John Calvin

According to Calvin, the image of God lies primarily in the soul, but also includes the body.[17] Generally, Calvin felt that the image of God was obliterated by the fall, yet sometimes he mentioned that there are remnants of the image of God within us. His focus was almost entirely focused on the renewal of the image of God through Christ.[18]

CONTEMPORARY INTERPRETATIONS

There are three basic interpretations of the image of God: the substantive (or ontological), relational, and functional view. Up to this point the substantive view has really only been addressed. This is historically the widest accepted view. This view holds that the image of God is identified as having definite characteristics or qualities within the makeup of the human.[19] Some, such as the Mormons, go as far as to state that the image of God is physical.[20] This is not the most common view by any means, but it does have historical roots reaching back to people such as Justin Martyr.[21]

What is common within the substantive view is isolating the image of God within the psychological or spiritual makeup of a human being.[22] Historically the emphasis has been on man’s ability to reason, but this has changed and skewed slightly in the recent post-modern, post-Christian age of the west. Yet, the focus remains still on man’s ability to think and to understand.

Within the realm of psychology, psychologists explain that man is born with the ability to understand the reality around them. Studies have shown that babies as early as two weeks old are able to communicate with other people in consistent and realistic ways. Not only are these babies able to learn and solve puzzles, they take pleasure from doing so. Today people argue that such studies show the fact that humans differ from animals in this way, and use such studies to say that the image of God really is wrapped up in man’s ability to reason.[23]

The Relational View of the Image of God

In the twentieth century, theologians such as Karl Barth and Emil Brunner began challenging traditional views of the image of God. They did not see the image of God as something that man has or is. They believed that the image of God was experienced through relationship. Barth rejected the idea of the image being reason, attributing it to Aristotle who defined man as “a being gifted with reason.”[24] Barth, when discussing Genesis 1:26-27 in his Church Dogmatics, said, “Could anything be more obvious than to conclude from this clear indication that the image and likeness of the being created by God signifies existence in confrontation?” For Barth, the image of God was about the confrontational relationship between man and man, man and woman, and ultimately man and God. According to Barth, this relational aspect between man, God, and others defines what it means to be human and therefore was not lost in the fall. Therefore, there can then be no such thing as the renewal of the image of God.[25]

Brunner said that it is only when one has faith in Jesus Christ that one fully possesses the image of God. He agreed with Barth that the image was not reason. Reason for Brunner is simply a tool to experience a relationship with God. He split the image into two senses, the formal and the material. The formal aspect deals with such aspects as freedom, reason, conscience, and language. The material image of God is man’s act of response, the relationship with God. The formal aspect was not affected by the fall according to Brunner, but a person may or may not have the material sense of the image of God.[26]

The Functional View of the Image of God

The functional view differs from the substantive and relational view in that the image of God is not something one has or the experiencing of a relationship, but rather something one does, most specifically, exercising dominion over creation. As Barth and Brunner drew on existentialism, the functional view draws on philosophical functionalism or pragmatism.[27] The focus is very much upon Genesis 1:26-28 where man is seen made in God’s image “so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground (Gen 1:26b, NIV).” As God is Lord over all creation, humans reflect the image of God by exercising their dominion over creation. In this view, the image of God is truly the image of God as Lord.[28]

PERSONAL INTERPRETATIONS

The image of God remains for me something that cannot be completely defined. As God cannot truly be defined by only a few attributes, I believe that His image within man cannot be completely understood in simply one realm. Because the Bible does not draw out on the implications, we are left to compare and contrast with animals and with God. When we contrast ourselves with animals, it is obvious that we are indeed the only being that has the capability to truly reason. When we compare ourselves with God we find significance in relationships. We are the only beings that can truly experience relationships and love.

I understand the image of God to be who we are as humans. We are the image of God, not simply in the image of God (1 Cor 11:7). There is also the possibility that Genesis 1:26 could be rendered “Let us make man as our image,” as well as in verse 27. In reality, to be in the image and to be the image itself is not really any different. So in this sense I take the substantive view of the image of God. At the same time I also acknowledge the fact that man was indeed made in the image of a working God. God had just made the universe before making man, and man was created to exercise dominion over all creation. God is at work all the time and we are His image. Yet, at the same time, the image of God is not this work. Both structure and function should be included in understanding the image of God.

The body should be included in some way as well, but only to the extent that we are our body. We can exist apart from the body, but at the same time the body cannot be completely left out because it has a part in what makes up a person. Our bodies may just be tents for our time here on earth, but one day we will have incorruptible bodies for eternity (1 Cor 15:42-49).

Practical Implications

If we are made in God’s image, or if we are His image, then there are some very practical implications. The image of God gives value to every single person on this earth. This has strong implications for the medical field and within ethics. If everyone has the image of God, then killing babies (abortion) or the elderly and handicapped (euthanasia) is murder. The fact that everyone is given dignity and value by being made in His image sheds light on the sins of slavery and racism. There are wicked sins which take place within society when the image of God is not valued in others.

This is not just a grievous sin within the world. It is found it the church. It is naïve to think it does not. We are very good at acknowledging the truth of the image of God as a doctrine, but very poor at living it out. As James said, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be (James 3:9-10, NIV).”

For the last three years my home church has taught VBS from Genesis 1. All three of these years I have taught first graders. We teach them about creation and that they are made in the image of God. But at the end of every day we reward either the boys or girls, whoever memorized more Scripture, brought more friends, etc., by smashing a pie in a leaders face, or making an ice cream sundae on their head.  We teach them one thing with our words, and then teach them something completely different with our actions. Unfortunately, actions speak louder than words.

God made both male and female in His image. I believe that in a certain sense God incorporates both genders. Without both males and females we would not have as full of an understanding of who God is. Although Scripture clearly shows that men and woman are different in many ways, one aspect in which they are not different is that they both are made in God’s image and share His likeness. This means that to treat one gender with less respect than the other is wrong. Both have been made in His image. Children also equally share the likeness of God. This has implications for understanding other doctrines such as the priesthood of all believers.

CONCLUSION

There are many more implications that can be drawn: belonging to God, Jesus as the perfect example, work being good, etc. But it is clear that the biblical motif of the image of God is very important as it relates to humanity because of the theological significance and the important implications in how one relates to his neighbor and to God.


[1] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 442.

[2] Anthony Hoekema, Created in God’s Image, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; and United Kingdom: Paternoster, 1994), 12.

[3] Brian S. Rosner et al., New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity & Diversity of Scripture (IVP Academic, 2000), 576.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Anthony Hoekema, 33.

[8] Ibid., 34.

[9] Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt, trans. Ilive Wyon (New York: Scribner, 1939), 93.

[10] Hoekema, 34. Also see Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, III.23.5.

[11] Rosner, 576.

[12] Gordon H. Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man, (Jefferson: Maryland, 1984), 11-12. Also, see Augustine’s Summa Theologica.

[13] Clark, 12-13.

[14] Hoekema, 34-35.

[15] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 523.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Hoekema, 42.

[18] Ibid, 43.

[19] Erickson, 520.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Clark, 11.

[22] Erickson, 521.

[23] Paul D. Ackerman, In God’s Image After All: How Psychology Supports Biblical Creationism (Baker Pub Group, 1990), 49-54.

[24] Hoekema, 49-50.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Erickson, 524.

[27] Ibid., 529.

[28] Ibid., 528.

A Look at Jonah 1:1-3

The book of Jonah begins like much of the prophetic literature found in the Bible: the word of the LORD is given to one of His prophets, and a message is given to the prophet to proclaim. But, three verses into the book the prophet Jonah takes the reader in a different direction. Instead of obeying God, Jonah silently arises and urgently flees in disobedience.

The book of Jonah differs from much of the prophetic writings in that it is mostly a narrative. Jonah is not merely a fable or fairy tale. It is a great historical account featuring a great city, a great storm, a great fish, and a great evil.[1] The book of Jonah is not the only place in which Jonah is seen. There is a mention of Jonah in 2 Kings 14:24-27 in which he is identified as a northern prophet of the early eight century BC.[2] Although this date has some challengers such as Jack Sasson, most hold to this date for the time in which the book of Jonah takes place.

Jonah 1:1-3 sets the tone for the rest of the book. As Jonah attempts to flee from the presence of Yahweh, Jonah starts his trek downwards which would ultimately lead him to the depths of the sea and to the roots of the mountains (2:6) before being brought back up by God and given the same commandment to arise and go preach to the Ninevites of their coming judgment.

JONAH 1:1

“And the word of the LORD came to Jonah, son of Amittai, saying:”

The way that Jonah opens is typical of introductions found in other prophetical books, although not exactly parallel. It most closely resembles Joel 1:1 which says, “The word of the LORD that came to Joel, son of Pethuel.” Although Jonah and Joel’s introductions are very similar, Joel differs in a significant way. Joel’s introduction introduces a list of oracles or prophetic sayings, but Jonah has the introduction of a narrative. This is unique within the prophetic books, but is found in other narrative literature about prophets. A look at Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-10, which says “The word of the LORD came to him (Elijah), saying, ‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there…’” shows a striking similarity to Jonah 1:1.[3]

The phrase “the word of the LORD came to…” does not open any other biblical books. But it is found opening episodes in larger books (cf. 1 Sam 15:10; 1 Kgs 6:11; 16:1; 21:17, 28; 2 Chr 11:2; Isa 38:4; Jer 29:30; 32:26; 33:19, 23; 34:12; 35:12; 37:6; Zech 7:8).[4] There is no need to think that the book is a continuation of an account already underway or that it is part of a larger work no longer in existence. It is an account of God’s continuing work with His people and a prophet named Jonah.[5] The first word, וַֽיְהִי , is often nothing more than an introductory expression which needs no translation. Several books which begin with it (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Esther, and Ezekiel) do not lose any meaning by not translating it. Here it is the main verb of the clause, but there is no reason to try to link Jonah with any other narrative.[6]

Some have taken the literal meaning of Jonah, “dove,” and Jonah’s father Amittai, “truth,” as ways to better understand (or perhaps preach) the book of Jonah. Some focus on the characteristics of doves and compare and contrast them with Jonah. They say that doves symbolize peace, but Jonah desired judgment, and that doves are home-loving birds, and Jonah also loved his home and people. It is the stubborn nationalism of Jonah that God addresses throughout the book.[7] Some also contrast Jonah with the dove that Noah sent from the ark.[8] Eugene Roop points out that even though you can see Jonah as “Dove, son of truth,” those who do typically interpret the narrative as a parody see Jonah’s name as satire.[9] What the narrator is trying to show through this introduction to the book is that Jonah’s commission was at least formally traditional. A prophet had been called by God.

JONAH 1:2

“Arise and go immediately to Nineveh, that great city, and announce against it because their wickedness has gone up before me.”

Verse two summarizes the LORD’s instructions to Jonah. The first thing that Jonah is told to do is ק֠וּם לֵ֧ךְ (“arise and go”). Many scholars agree that ק֠וּם is used with an inceptive force, indicating that the action required is to take place immediately.[10] The phrase can be translated “Go at once” showing the immediacy. It is not necessary to rid the English translation of ק֠וּם when doing this, however. To do so removes some of the beauty of the intentional use of certain words by the author. Here Yahweh is telling Jonah to arise, to get up. Does this mean that Jonah was lounging about, not adhering to his duties as a prophet? The text does not say, but there is potential validity to thinking so.

Yahweh tells Jonah to go to “Nineveh, that great (הַגְּדוֹלָ֖ה) city.” Here Nineveh described as “that great city.” Its people are known for their wickedness. Evil (raah) and great (gadol) appear frequently in various forms throughout the narrative. It is not just Nineveh that is described as great, but the storm, the fish, and anger also are described as great in the book. What the word great entails is debated, especially in context with Nineveh. Some say that it designates nothing more than its size. Others discuss that its size, influence, number of people, abundance of evil, etc. all can be encompassed by the term “great.”[11]

The city Nineveh was old, dating back to approximately 4500 BC, and one of the major cities of Assyria. Situated on the bank of the Tigris River, it was built by Nimrod, according to Gen 10:11. It was an extremely well-fortified city and the capital of Assyria for a time.[12] It stood about 550 miles northeast of Samaria, a journey that would require Jonah to travel more than a month to reach. [13] The great size of the city was no representation of its moral character, however. Beyond its size, the city was also known for the ruthless atrocities it imposed on its captives. And it is the wickedness/evil of the inhabitants of Nineveh that had “gone up before” Yahweh.

The Hebrew changes from third singular “against it,” to third plural and shows that Yahweh is talking about the evil of those who indwelt Nineveh. God was watching from heaven and knew what was happening on earth. The evil had come up to Yahweh, appealing for judgment as Gen 4:10; 18:20, 21. The Septuagint translates it Ἀνέβη ἡ κραυγή τῆς κακίας αὐτής πρὸς μέ, “The cry of its wickedness is come up unto me.”[14]

Jonah is told, “וּקְרָ֣א עָלֶ֑יהָ” (“and announce against it”). Although some do not think that “against it” is a proper translation[15], most scholars and translations translate it this way. Sasson argues that when קְרָא is used with עָל it means “against.”[16] It is an appeal for or an announcement of the Lord’s judgment against them (cf. Deut 15:9; 24:15; 1 Kgs 13:2, 4, 32; 2 Kgs 23:17).[17]

What does this passage say about God? Typically in the Old Testament God is conceived as only being concerned with Israel, the nation in whom He had chosen to be His people. Yet here Yahweh is seen concerned with Nineveh and its survival. The great city of Nineveh, in all their wickedness, mattered to God, and his concern and love reaches out to all people.[18]

JONAH 1:3

“So Jonah arose and fled to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. And he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish. And he paid its fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish away from the presence of the LORD.”

In verse two, Yahweh told Jonah to “arise and go,” and here in verse three Jonah arose, but then fled in the opposite direction. Unlike Elijah of 1 Kings 17:8-10, who “set out and went,” Jonah directly disobeyed Yahweh. Jonah is not the only prophet who resisted God’s command. Moses, Gideon, and Jeremiah all raised objections to God’s command, but were eventually persuaded to accept their call. Jonah silently and urgently ran away.[19]

No motives are explained as to why Jonah disobeyed God so forcefully. The narrative does not tell us at this point. The reader is left to his imagination. Eventually Jonah expresses why he did not want to go in Jonah 4:2. The reason Jonah did not want to go was because of fear. It was not a fear, as some assume, of the Assyrian’s and their brutality. It was a fear that Nineveh might actually repent. If Nineveh repented, what would that mean for Israel’s own stubbornness and sin? Some think that Jonah thought if God spared Nineveh, then that would eventually mean the destruction of Israel.[20] Ultimately, however, we are not given any reasons as to why Jonah flees in the beginning. But reasons are not needed to obey God at His word.

It is here that Jonah begins his progression downward. As he flees from the LORD, Jonah makes it his desire to get as far away from (מִלִּפְנֵ֖י) the LORD as possible. What was Jonah thinking? Did he really think he could escape from the presence of Yahweh? Perhaps his view of mercy had kept him from making wise decisions. Some have said Jonah thought that in fleeing the land of Israel, where Yahweh was peculiarly present and worshipped, he could escape from his power and influence. This would have been a likely conception of how gods interacted in those days, but Jonah more than likely knew better. He knew the truths stated in Ps 139:7-10.[21]

Jonah went down to Joppa, a port city sixty miles away. He found a boat that was going out to Tarshish and paid its fare. There is much discussion about where exactly Tarshish was and why Jonah decided to go there. It is generally accepted that Tarshish is a city about 2,500 miles away from Joppa located in Spain in the opposite direction of Nineveh. There have been archaeological findings to support this, but as for the story itself its actual location is not of the greatest concern. It is mentioned three times in this verse, and two of the times “away from the presence of Yahweh” is mentioned. What is clearly seen is that Jonah is going through much trouble to get away from the presence of Yahweh. He purchased the fare for the boat going to Tarshish. Some say that this fare for the boat was not merely a ticket, but the fare for the entire boat.[22] There is a sense of urgency that Jonah was trying to flee as quickly as possible and do whatever it took to do so.

It is not a coincidence that Jonah “went down” (יֵּרֶד) to Joppa and again “went down” into the boat. This is the narrator contrasting the call for Jonah to “arise and go,” but instead Jonah went to great lengths to arise and flee, and then go down. He continues to go down until he is swallowed by a large fish and brought down to the depths of the ocean. In this sense, God gave Jonah what he desired: to escape the presence of God.

CONCLUSION

Jonah starts off similarly to many other prophetic writings, but before you know it he has jumped on a boat with the intentions of fleeing from the presence of Yahweh. The language used is vivid and intentional. Jonah 1:1-3 begins the story of prophet who eventually learns that you cannot escape from God’s presence. This story also says interesting things about God Himself. God was interested in the great city of Nineveh in its sin. He was being merciful to them by sending a prophet to warn them of their coming destruction. Why did God not choose a prophet who would have willingly obeyed Him? Why did God not raise someone up in the midst of Nineveh? There were lessons that God wanted to teach Jonah, Nineveh, the eventual reader, and especially Israel through this story. God is indeed everywhere, and His presence cannot be fled from. Even though Jonah gave it his best efforts, he learned this truth the hard way.


[1] Eugene F. Roop, Ruth, Jonah, Esther, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2002), 107.

[2] D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Jonah 1:1–3.

[3] Roop, 105.

[4] Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page, vol. 19B, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 223.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Brynmor F. Price and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 21, A Translators’ Handbook on the Book of Jonah, Helps for translators (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1978), 47-53.

[7] Paul Mackrell, Opening Up Jonah (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2007), 18.

[8] Robert Jamieson and A. R. Fausset, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), Jonah 1:1–3.

[9] Roop, 106.

[10] Price and Nida, 49.

[11] Roop, 107.

[12] Smith and Page, 224.

[13] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-), Jon 1:1–3.

[14] The Pulpit Commentary: Jonah, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004), 1-2.

[15] D. A. Carson,  Jonah 1:2.

[16] Jack M. Sasson, Jonah: A New Translation with Introduction, Commentary, and Interpretation, 1st ed. (Anchor Bible (Doubleday), 1990) 74.

[17] Smith and Page, 225.

[18] Peter C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets : Volume 1, The Daily Study Bible Series (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 217.

[19] Roop, 108.

[20] Smith and Page, 226.

[21] Jamieson and Fausset, Jonah 1:3.

[22] Price and Nida, 53.

The Future of Missions

For people who are interested in evangelical Christian missions worldwide, it is an interesting and exciting time to be living. Globalization has allowed for conversation between the quickly growing Christian populations throughout the “Global South” and the West. Christian voices from Africa, Latin America, and Asia are being sought and being heard from in the West. The dynamics have and are continuing to change.

Recently, 4500 Christian leaders met in Cape Town, South Africa for a two week conference to discuss what Christianity looks like, and what needs to be addressed, worldwide. Most people were under 40 years old and not from the United States or Western Europe. It was the third Lausanne conference for world evangelism. A movement started by Billy Graham and John Stott in 1974. This huge endeavor has potential to heavily influence and impact the way Christianity is shaped and grown worldwide. The topics discussed are the topics that will be brought back to the seminaries and also to the local churches around the world.

Three professors from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the graduate school I attend, were privileged to go. (Dr. Peter Cha, Elizabeth Sung, and Dr. Tite Tienou) After they returned, a group of about 50 students listened to their overall impressions in a panel discussion headed by Dr. Craig Ott last Thursday. (Dr. Gary Fujino, a graduate of TEDS, who also attended Cape Town 2010 was there in place of Dr. Tienou). The themes and impressions that they returned with I found to be interesting and useful in helping me understand what the focus of world evangelism and missions looks like for the near future. It was also interesting for me to compare some of the topics they brought up with the topics that were mentioned at Urbana 09 last December, which I was privileged to attend.

There are themes and trends which seem to be more in discussion for Americans and others in the West than in most of the rest of the world. For example, the hot topic of the balance between social justice and missions/evangelism. As we here in America continue to battle what the balance should be of alleviating current physical suffering versus addressing future eternal suffering through proclamation of the Gospel, others in the world simply do not even realize there could be a dichotomy between the two. For them, to do missions is to be holistic. There is simply no other option. When a woman is starving, or someone has AIDS, to simply preach to her about the gospel is not enough. It is inhumane. At the same time, to just help the individual in their current suffering and not give them the hope of the Gospel is unfaithful and unthinkable. The two must be done together. It is not seen as evangelism. It is not understood as missions. It is just simply being a “normal” Christian. The problem arises here in America and other wealthy countries because we can completely seclude ourselves from the physical suffering of many people. This leads us to putting priority to proclamation of the gospel and ignoring physical suffering and needs. John Piper, at Cape Town, answered this issue in an interesting way. Christians care about suffering, but they care about eternal suffering more. Perhaps this may help bring the mindset of those who see proclamation as being first and foremost see that suffering does need to be addressed. But ultimately it may still fall short of really helping bring the two sides back together.

I say two sides because that is sadly what has happened in America and the polarization only has seemingly gotten stronger in recent years. Someone recently brought up in a discussion about social justice and missions the fact that the strong split between fundamentalism and modernism really helped bring this false dichotomy arise. And we today are trying to still find the middle ground in this issue. While there are those who value the proclamation of the Gospel as first and foremost (and I cannot disagree that it must be done, and done very clearly) there are also those who have said that doing social justice is a way, if not the way, to proclaim the Gospel. They would say that preaching isn’t necessary if we are showing them Christ’s love through our actions. (Side note: Perhaps the growth of short-term missions has helped this view grow stronger as people many times go and help build and paint houses and do other types of physical labor without much evangelizing). Yet, to not proclaim the Gospel leaves the people we help, feed, etc., without the possibility to place their faith in Jesus Christ. They may see our good acts, and we may have done it as unto Christ, but in the end they are still lost.

So, as I have already said. This is a big topic within the evangelical world today, especially in the realm of overseas missions. But it seems to really only be a topic that troubles us here in the West. It’s not something that causes much divide elsewhere. Plus, it’s not like over the last century the missionaries that have gone have proclaimed the gospel while ignoring the social issues they are surrounded by. When the debate really picked up, it wasn’t like the missionaries shut down the hospitals they started or shut down the clinics, schools, or orphanages they had been working in. It is something that has actually found quite a healthy balance throughout the world and really seems to only be a problem as we turn to American short-term missions. But that is a completely different topic.

So this topic was not a big topic discussion for Lausanne III as many might have thought here in the West. A topic that was discussed however was how to reach out to the diaspora people scattered throughout the world. This is a topic that wasn’t so much addressed through the plenary sessions as much as around the tables and in the hallways. This was also a topic briefly mentioned at one of the sessions that I attended at Urbana 09. It is not talking about immigrants scattered throughout the world. It is talking about groups of people, mass movements, in certain countries. To be a missionary to a certain people, you do not have to go to their home country anymore. To reach out to the Indian people, you can go to Canada. There are 26 million refugees in the world, and those who are away from home are softer to the Gospel message.

This is a topic that is being discussed and it doesn’t look like it is going to be leaving us anytime soon. It is growing more and more prominent in the discussion among the missiologists and those interested in global evangelism.

There are other topics which are hot issues that as time goes on will continue to mold the way missions is addressed in this quickly changing world. Population growth, extreme poverty, rapid urbanization, reactionary fundamentalism, growing violence, globalization, fragmentation and nationalism, the growth of Islam, and religious pluralism are all topics which are shaping what 21st century Christian missions looks like. We’ll see how God continues to shape His kingdom in this quickly changing world.

-AMS

Christ’s view on the Authority of the Old Testament

Jesus lived a life of humility, born of a woman, and born under the law (Gal 4:4). He lived His life in obedience to Scripture. He trusted the Old Testament Scriptures to be the Word of God, and therefore authoritative in all manners of life. He obviously knew the Scriptures very well, and could call vast portions to memory at a moment’s notice. He believed the prophecies of the Old Testament, that they were going to be fulfilled, and then went on to fulfill every prophecy concerning Himself. Before the first words even left the lips of Jesus Christ, He had fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. In every single act accomplished and in every single word spoken, Jesus Christ was constantly concerned about fulfilling, not destroying, the law and the prophets. He did not hide this fact either. He made it aware to His followers (Matt 5:17), to the religious Jews (Luke 4:21), and to His disciples (John 15:25).

Jesus never disputed the Old Testament. His teachings were completely based from Scripture. His teachings were already found in the Old Testament, but many times He clarified the applications to focus on the heart, rather than on the outward appearance. Jesus expected the religious leaders to know the Scriptures very well and to be applying them to their hearts. When the Jewish leaders and various other Jews would challenge Him with questions, Jesus would rebuke them for their lack of Scriptural knowledge. In seven separate occurrences in the Gospels, Jesus replied to such questions by saying, “Have you not read?” and then went on to allow Scripture to speak for itself. This shows that Jesus believed in the authority and the truthfulness of the Old Testament and that it can and should be applied to one’s own daily life.

Jesus believed in the purity of the Scriptures, and that they needed no addition, nor subtraction. He warned against those who added to and subtracted from the Scriptures, and rebuked those who did. Jesus exposed the Pharisees and other teachers of religious law of holding their own customs and laws above God’s law found in the Old Testament. The Pharisees and other teachers accused Jesus’ disciples of breaking tradition by not washing their hands before eating. However, Jesus replied very sternly to them by quoting Isaiah and saying, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mark 7:6-7). Jesus showed the dangers of upholding that which was not commanded by God, and gave Scripture the authority above any manmade tradition.

Jesus also believed in the power of the Scriptures. He put a high standard in believing and knowing the Scriptures. When Jesus recounts the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the rich man in hell begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them of the torments of hell. Abraham replies and says that they can listen to Moses and the Prophets, speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures. The rich man is not satisfied with this, and tries to explain that if only his brothers will witness someone from the dead, that they will believe. Abraham, disagrees, and tells the rich man that if his brothers will not believe Moses and the Prophets then they will not be changed by even someone who has been raised from the dead. Jesus, in telling this story, shows just how important the Old Testament Scriptures really are. They are more important than any sign, miracle, or wonder Jesus ever performed. This is exemplified in Jesus’ own life on earth. Before His ministry began He entered into the wilderness to fast and to be tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1). Even though He was impoverished physically, He had internalized the Scriptures and had allowed them to be his nourishment (Matt 4:4). When Satan tempted Him in a number of ways, His reaction was to always use Scripture. He knew them well, and how to apply them. He rebuked Satan with the Scriptures even when Satan himself had used them against Him. Jesus allowed the power of the Word of God to sustain Him in His physical weakness.

Jesus quoted from twenty-four different Old Testament books. He took the Scriptures to mean what they said. He believed the Old Testament to be historically accurate and factual. He affirmed the creation, the flood, Abraham, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his wife, Isaac and Jacob, God’s provision of Manna, the brass serpent lifted by Moses, Jonah and the great fish, Isaiah, and Daniel. He trusted the Scriptures as fact.

Jesus showed the authority and validity of both the Scriptures and His resurrection by explaining how He fulfilled everything that the Scriptures had said about Him (Luke 24:25). In fact, Jesus had expected anyone who had read to Old Testament to have expected for Him to have had to suffer and die and rise again from the dead three days later. Jesus had been in the Scriptures from the very beginning, and He explained it to the two people walking to Emmaus and then later to His disciples. He had been in the Word of God since the beginning because He was the Word of God which became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1,14). Jesus was the Word and the giver of the Word, and for Jesus not to believe in the authority of Scripture would be for Him not to believe in His own authority as God and LORD.

Jesus desired for all to know the Scriptures and to view them as authoritative because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17). The people who challenged Jesus were those who did not have a sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures and therefore insufficient faith; and He properly rebuked them for it. It was His understanding of the authority of Scripture that made Him stand out among teachers “as one having authority” (Matt 7:29). It was the fulfillment of these authoritative Scriptures that proved He was God.