There is so much to learn.  In so many ways, God’s grace in dealing with us is beyond guessing.⁠1 Our view of God’s plan for our future is a 50,000 foot view with little detail visible to our understanding.  This simple point has escaped our attention since our active imaginations have, theologically speaking, built a ground level picture.  

Our Lord has only begun to surprise us!

Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.⁠2

The details we argue as believers are mostly intellectual filler. Like the inactive substance that makes up most of a pill, much of our theology is inert and harmless as long as we learn not to argue too vehemently and not with a vitriolic passion that suggests we know what we are talking about. 

However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him⁠3

But we have our positions and a need somehow to distinguish ourselves from others who are persuasive in what they promote.  We must defend the faith! Our voice has to be a “Thus saith the Lord!”

But beyond the message of the Cross, does it?

God has gifted us with an exciting message of great news in the story of His grace. Anyone, regardless of what they have done or what life or reputation they are living, can join the saintly band that is marching to a glorious place with Him that we call “heaven.”  We don’t really need to know how God made this offer possible, other than through His death and resurrection in the person of His Son.  What happened exactly on that Roman cross?  Did He die to forgive us? To reconcile us? To appease His wrath …against us or against sin? Was it the ultimate sacrifice for love?  Did He pay our debt or ransom us …or both?  The theories of our atonement are many but none can deny that this was grace!

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.⁠4

What we need to know only is that now the veil is rent and we have an audience with our God.  There is much to know, much to learn. Now begins the journey with Him, talking to Him, getting to know Him …a journey that will walk us into His living presence and into eternity with Him.  For now, why should anything else consume our interest or drive our passion for truth?  Jesus death is our starting line.

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.⁠5

What He has told us in Scripture is worth our time exploring but only within the boundary of that revelation.  Outside that circle of knowledge there is so much more to know …someday in glory.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow…⁠6

And what about the Holy Spirit and the end times and Israel’s relation to the Church?  Unless we missed it, the Spirit is within our lives to enhance clarity and train our perspective on that Cross and the power of the resurrection in our witness for our Lord.  The Spirit truly hides in the shadows, works in the background, to put Jesus, His death, resurrection and intercessory work in the spotlight of eternal truth.  

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.⁠7

And we ask, “Why me?”  Was I chosen by grace or could I have said or done something that turned God’s ear first?  Why did He call me and not so many others? Why is the way that leads to destruction so wide and well traveled and so few take the narrow path to God?⁠8  How has grace not worked to redirect them!?  

We admit that our questions are many but answers should not be conjured up through a rambling theology that feels a need to defend the plan of God or justify what we think we know or observe about God’s dealings with His creation.⁠9 I am always brought back to Jesus’s final words to His disciples when they were near overwhelmed with apprehension and so many questions. They were restless, anxious; for, so the word “troubled” means in John 14:1 when Jesus spoke peace to their hearts.. And to ours:  You believe in God.”  You do, don’t you!  And then Jesus summed up what grace is all about making a thousand questions no longer necessary:  Trust me!

1 Romans 11:33 How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
2 Isaiah 64:4
3 I Corinthians 2:9
4 Isaiah 1:18
5 I Corinthians 2:2
6 Deuteronomy 29:29
7 John 16:13
8 Matthew 7:14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
9 John 21:22 Jesus answered, “… what is that to you? You must follow me.”
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A Heavenly Citizenship

[taken from my latest booklet: A Heavenly Citizenship: Living in a Strange Land.]

I am tempted to raise the political issues of the day to point out how little relevance they have in our lives other than to fret us about bridges we may never come to.  In 1973-4, while in the drawn out and worrisome process of transitioning with my family from one ministry to another, I was not even aware of the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre” episode of the Watergate scandal and an impeachment inquiry against, then, President Nixon.  My mind was on other things while I waited in long gas lines with my 2 dollars for a little gas or cleaned elementary school facilities as a part time custodian or argued with the wife about better times to come.  

Nixon, who?  While the country no doubt took sides or grew enraged at the political shenanigans that had to answer to a Congressional oversight of the national interests, I went to work, did a little teaching at a local Bible school, eventually came home, locked myself in a hot bath while listening to the ball game on my tiny portable radio, and then dove into bed until the next cycle hit.  It wasn’t the best approach to solving the problems of life, I grant you, but I would inevitably learn.  Yet, on the plus side, the political turmoil was off my radar—and that was, for me, a good thing!

What I am learning is that this world is not my home.  There is great comfort in knowing that everything God is doing or allowing in our lives as believers is a view to preparing us for His world. We should not compare the trials of this life with the glories of the next. 

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.⁠1

Perhaps, enough has been said to make the point that we should be living this life with a focus on the next.  It is the way of a peaceful co-existence with the many challenges we face. We should keep in mind that our true citizenship is not in the country we find ourselves domiciled. We should allow God to remind us through His Word of the promises of His providence and protection …and then sleep well at night.  

In a phrase:  Heaven is our true home.

Becoming emotionally involved in the political chaos of the times disturbs our peace and takes our thoughts away from the spiritual reality, our relation with God, that in actuality supports and nurtures us. Our personal history is being written by the providence of the God Who called us to serve Him.  No politician has a say in that matter.  We should view the “news” as simply the ongoing histrionics of a government (or maybe, Press) that mistakenly thinks it has broken free from God’s control. Watch the drama unfold. 

It is important for our sense of equilibrium, while the political world quakes about us, to spend time in God’s Word and christian fellowship.  It is important we maintain perspective, that we can envision in our minds—as Isaiah did—God high and lifted up upon His throne. In the biblical account, there was political unrest because the king of 4 decades was gone. …but God was there …still seated …still reigning!

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.⁠2

Don’t take the issues of the day personally.  We are truly insulated from bad news and news that is more editorial than fact if we continue to find our christian experience our primary reality, if we wrap our hearts in the message of Calvary, if we allow ourselves those personal moments in prayer when God through His Word says something special to us, reminding us that He is working on the problem.

But the overarching truth, again, is that everything the Spirit does in our lives—and there’s a lot—is but the first moments of an eternity to come. We may need to turn the news off to remind ourselves that the Kingdom of Heaven is already here.

1 2 Corinthians 4:18
2 Isaiah 6:1
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A Study in Oness

[taken from the Introduction to “The Henotic Relationship:  A Study in Oneness“]

…a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

To be more precise, what is the meaning of the  phrase “one flesh”? How might we come to appreciate its value theologically and in our modern relations?

The male anglerfish in a literal sense, after fertilizing the female’s eggs, bites into her side (she being much larger than he) and there he swims, physically welded after his bite “heals,” a part of her, visible only as an extra fin, for the  remainder of his life. The National Geographic called it “a weirdly clingy side” explaining, “after finding a female, the male black devil angler latches on and never lets go!⁠1

There are better translations of the word  “united”⁠2 in our verse. The King James’ translations “cleave” which is more accurate if less technical—reminds me of  an old german translation I once read “klebt an seine Frau” (glued to his wife).⁠3

And quickly: man cleaves to woman—not the other way around. Are the genders not interchangeable?⁠4

The King James’ use of a future “shall cleave” is not accurate.  This is a state of being which in the dynamic of the Hebrew language somehow speaks of a completed event, “is united.”  The Christian Standard gets closer:  bonds with his wife, and they become one.  I like the English Standard Version: The man shall “hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  There is no letting go in this verse! Letting go is my euphemism for divorce, something God came to “hate”⁠5

Guard your spirit,” the Lord warns,⁠6 against breaking this bond.

This single verse is like studying the Mandelbrot:  a captivating fractal that draws you deeper into its design but only revealing the same.  “One flesh,” in like fashion, the closer we look, the fuller and more real the “one”ness. To “cleave and become one” must speak of a relationship that parallels the mathematical beauty of the Mandelbrot, an infinite and eternal design for marriage that has no fissure to discover, no matter how deep we go searching into this awe-inspiring love relationship between Adam and his Eve.

2 glued – דָבַ֣ק
3 This Lutheran translation is lost to me now since I cannot find it on the web and I must have given my copy away.
4 In the Old Testament economy men divorced women never the opposite.
5 Malachi 2:16 “For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. [NLT]  The NIV is for me a poor translation, after the LXX: ἀλλὰ ἐὰν μισήσας ἐξαποστείλῃς λέγει κύριος ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ισραηλ.  if thou shouldest hate thy wife and put her away (divorce her) …ungodliness shall cover thy thoughts.” That’s a discussion for another day.
6 Malachi 2:16b
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Justified by Faith

[taken from: Translating God: The Problem with Grace]

Is our salvation a declaration of our righteousness,⁠1 a vicarious imputation of Christ’s righteousness,⁠2 or a quality of our new nature?⁠3 

All three!

There is a work begun in each believer that is evident in a growing relationship between them and the Savior and with other believers in fellowship.⁠4  In many ways this is a process: in our behavior,⁠5 in our knowledge of God’s holiness,⁠6 and in our desire toward God compared to other interests.⁠7 

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. — 1 John 3:2

But what is the emphasis here of declaring us righteous? 

…know that a person is not  [declared or pronounced] justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be  [declared or pronounced] justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be  [declared or pronounced] justified. —Galatians 2:16

Righteousness is not a matter of law but a matter of grace.  It is a work of grace within the believer 

  • to transform our thinking and 
  • to conform us to Christ and away from the world. 

The evidence is a growing awareness that the desires of God toward each of us best represent 

  • who we are becoming and who we ultimately want to be, 
  • what makes us most happy, and 
  • a perspective  that sees the circumstances of our life more and more as God sees them along with 
  • a sense that how God is leading is indeed best.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. — Romans 12:2

Though God imputed righteousness unto Abraham because of his absolute trust in and obedience to God⁠8 the language suggests he was a righteous man, not only declared righteous.  The Greek form establishes the christian doctrine that it is not a work or effort on our part that provides for this righteousness which is now part of who we are becoming in Him.  It was Jesus as a sin offering that made provision for us to become like Him.  Christ in us, the hope of glory,”⁠9

God made him who had no sin to be sin [offering] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. —  2 Corinthians 5:21

1 Romans 4:5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
2 1 Corinthians 1:30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
3 1 John 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.
4 1 John 1:3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
5 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
6 2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
7 Philippians 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
8 Genesis 15:6 וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ לּ֖וֹ צְדָקָֽה  (ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην) he credited it to him as righteousness.
9 Colossians 1:7 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
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Riches and Prosperity in The OT

The Hebrew language supports a cultural interpretation of wealth as possessions, such as, land, crops, flocks and herds.  With a covenantal theocracy these were blessings promised by God congruent with Israel’s faithfulness to serve Him and Him only. …an agreement they broke.  Do we conclude that wealth is a blessing of the faithful?  Is this prosperity? Well, yes and no. Yes, prosperity is the result often of following God’s commands but not all prosperity translates as wealth.

Prosperity in the Old Testament is more correctly a success story or the result of a successful endeavor.  A prosperous journey accomplishes in the mind of the journeyman whatever he set out to accomplish—and little doubt in the way and timeframe he anticipated for it.  Such prosperity in the theocratic sense (Old Testament theology) is the result of honoring God’s counsel or wisdom.  Thus prospering is synonymous with listening to God.

Wealth until Solomon’s ruminations was not a common topic.  Solomon not only wrote about prosperity and riches because he was wise but because this was a responsible part of his life.  

The poor came on 2 levels: those who lived paycheck to paycheck and those who were unemployed.  In Old Testament terms, day laborers were the first class, the “needy” who found work; beggars were the second.

Does any thing here imply that being poor is a sign of sinfulness? 

Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” — Haggai 1:4-6

I cannot conclude this absolutely.  Some poverty was clearly the result of disobedience to God, but in a more general way God thought kindly toward the poor and wanted those of means to be His instruments of mercy toward them.

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. — Deuteronomy 15:11


Another question worth asking is: must a blessing always be understood in material terms as possessions?  In the Old Testament, sadly, this was the mindset of most of the ancients. There was a relationship, to be sure, between following God’s commandments  and all levels of well-being and health, financial as well as physical  and political, but always prosperity translated into an immediate and natural benefit.  

To prosper spiritually or think of this life as an investment in the next was not in the language. We can not confirm that the Israelites in Bible days ever thought in terms of spiritual riches.  The idea of laying up “treasures in heaven⁠1 was an idea introduced by the Savior.

One more thing: the purpose behind this brief study is not to challenge one’s faith in God’s provisions or God’s promise to provide, nor do we want to suggest that wealthy believers have no scriptural basis for calling their fortunes a divine blessing.  But do we go so far as to suggest that wealth is always a “good and perfect gift” from God?⁠2  I think not.

Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth⁠3 of many wicked; — Psalm 37:16

And what about spiritual prosperity?  It would be John who would express such a sentiment,⁠4Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

1 Matthew 6:20
2 James 1:17
3 an uncommon word for wealth, “abundance.” See also Ecclesiastes 5:9 and Isaiah 60:5.
4 3 John 1:2
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Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53 is an incredible prophecy—by his own admission in verse 1—which cannot be discarded as uninspired or not revelatory without at the same time a total disregard for the honest and reasonable explanation a simple reading of the text offers. It is prophetic insight into a divine plan to offer Jesus for the sins of mankind.  It is a prophecy that could not be explained until we were able to look back in history and see for ourselves that it happened as Isaiah described.⁠1 One is disingenuous  who expresses a disinterest in this chapter because it fails to support a hoped for corroboration with evolutionary or new-orthodox theory.  To conclude, therefore, that Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” cannot be Jesus, or that chapter 53 does not specifically reference his vicarious and sacrificial death, is to shut the mind’s eye to an obvious truth that like a blinding sun outshines the logic of other interpretations.

Philip and the Ethiopian

Philip didn’t have John 3:16 or Acts 16:4 or Romans 3:23-25 to discuss God’s salvation through Christ …but he had Isaiah.  And he had a translation not any original Hebrew.  Ethiopians were fluent in Greek not Hebrew and they had the Septuagint version, the Greek translation, of Isaiah’s “Gospel.” The Ethiopian eunuch, whom Philip met in the wilderness, was reading it which was Philip’s opportunity to explain Calvary. Should we need any more to convince us of the providential hand of God, the irrefutable  evidence, that confirms and validates a christian faith in Isaiah’s work as the Word of God!?

And if it is God’s Word, we have been given one more miracle of the visible reality of an immanent God of Love.  Here in this simple account of 2 men in a chariot discussing the message of the Suffering Servant are seen the two biggest miracles:  Salvation has come to this Eunuch who was a Gentile, not a Jew, and the miracle of that book that he held in his hand over half a millenium after the prophet first transcribed it. 

1 Luke 9:44-45 “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.

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The Benefit of Giving

Psalms 112:5 came to my attention recently when a friend and I muddled through some ideas that seemed to suggest its meaning.

A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion. – KJV

It is generally agreed now that “discretion” is a poor translation. So, we look at others:

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice. – NIV

Good is the man — gracious and lending, He sustaineth his matters in judgment. – Young’s Literal Translation

The word “lend” is correct but does not suggest a means for making money, since, usury or interest did not gain favor with God. [Exodus 22:25].  “Gracious” or “generous” are good words.  The original suggests a charitable and compassionate spirit of giving. [Matthew 5:7]

It is the second half of the verse that puzzles me: “who conduct their affairs with justice.” Another rendering worthy our attention comes from a Hebrew lexicon on the word “conduct.”  It more correctly signifies to sustain, support or endure: “He will sustain a cause in court.”

We are thinking that the “he” here is not God but the fellow who lives by this principle of giving to the poor. He will discover that his way of living supports him in turn when his hour of need comes. The idea here might be that a giving heart is a wise motivator while conducting our own affairs.  When greed dominates our interests, we are heading toward an inevitable crash and burn scenario.

Also: even though the idea is good theology,  the word “judgment,” here, I don’t   believe means divine or final judgment. The merciful in this life will in turn receive mercy from God in the next, but, I want to think that somehow the Psalmist is saying that a giving spirit will support us in ways we have yet to imagine.  There is an unseen wisdom in giving.  Charity is an investment in our own lives worth considering!

I lean toward a free translation which might read something like this:

A good man lives by this principle: he is a charitable giver and will lend to the poor. A giving spirit is a fair spirit, a fairness in his dealings that governs his life and sustains him.

Verses 6 & 7 add: He will not discard this way of life in times of panic; he does not fear bad news. He has learned to trust God.

  • The best answer to our own need is addressing the needs of others. [2 Corinthians 8:2].
  • The best way to be prepared for fearful times—that seem to find us all—is to live  ….charitably. [Proverbs 14:21; 19:17]
  • Learning to trust God is not an exercise in academia.  It is an exercise in giving. [Psalm 18:25; Proverbs 14:31]
  • A generous spirit, reaching out to help another, is an exercise in faith that does not react to fear. [Proverbs 21:13; 22:9]

The Message translation reads “…Sunrise breaks through the darkness for good people—
God’s grace and mercy and justice!”

Something to reflect on….

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Praise Him!!

There are many reasons for believing in God. Our reasons may be as individual as each one’s christian experience or as collectively appreciated as a scriptural promise that is shared by many or all believers. I have searched to understand the Presence of God, first and foremost, in the dynamic of an inner peace that often contradicts my circumstances. But no less meaningful to me for a probably less recognized reason: the miracle of holding a Bible in my hand and meditating on the possibility of my not having such a cherished treasure if there had not been a loving God to get it to me. There are so many finer points to make to corroborate this statement in the study of the Bible, its language, its message, its focus, that support a divine authorship—not to minimize the simple miracle of having it to hold, thirteen hundred plus years in the making while God employed dozens of amanuenses to script it.

But there is another that has my attention, and I wish I could play journalist for a week and interview a few hundred believers to ask them—and here it is straight:

“Why do you lift your hand or hands during a song service?”

I have seen Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, among others, …and, of course, Pentecostals do it. But do they know they have this strange ritual in common? Maybe it is not so strange. Maybe it is not a ritual! No one is told to do it and the people who do—well—seem to be “in a worshipful moment” as if only God and they were in the room. Their eyes are closed. They may have tears visible.  Most observable is the expression on their faces that seems to brighten their countenance—a kind of unplanned beauty or glow about them. Some describe this as being shut in with God.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

There is a biblical word for this

Here’s the interesting part in all this: There is a biblical word for this as if God were choreographing some ceremonial expression designed exclusively to honor Him. After all the scripture affirms: God inhabits the “praises” of His people [Psalms 22:3] … and (ready for this?!) the verb in the Old Testament for praise comes from the word “hand” and means—among other related nuances—to show or point out with the hand extended, to celebrate and give thanks [an exclamation point …or two… belongs here]!!

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

The Psalmist averred as much when he wrote:

I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. Psalm 28:2

Recall Paul admonishing young Timothy’s congregants:

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 1 Timothy 2:8

The simple truth is that the uplifted hand is the universal symbol of praising God.

A universal expression of individual worship

Oh yes, Pentecostals often instruct their parishioners to raise their hands in worship but no one is telling the Baptists or Presbyterians or Catholics to do this. I think they wouldn’t dare because such a free flow of expression might not be as natural in these services where the order of the ritual is—I say lovingly—by design, more a part of the worship.

But without being told to, hands go up before God with a spontaneous, almost intuitive, longing to display the heart’s devotion to Him. It is as if one’s hands were begging the believer to permit them this declaration of praise. And so often the worshipper seems to raise hands in worship without thought or intention other than it “feels” right. One’s arms seems to almost raise themselves as if to say to the worshipper, “Allow me this joy!”

This appears to be a universal expression of worship, the one declaration of a heart after God’s own heart shared by all believers, the one ritual no man or church can claim as their own.  Christians are not honoring some ritual or some theology or some worship leader’s call to worship; they are honoring God in this most basic and humble expression of their love for Him.

What more proof need we that God is real among His people?!

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Jonah’s Distress

Sometimes a need to confirm a theological point of view hides a scriptural message that ought to be evident within the sacred text. Remember Jonah? …who according to his own testimony was 3 days in the “womb of the grave” [Jonah 2:2] which the NIV translated in a poetic line: “deep in the realm of the dead.”  He was buried alive!  Just say it! Then we might linger a moment in silence before launching into an obtuse opprobrium about Jonah’s disobedience, lack of faith, and unexplained prejudiced hostility toward the Ninevites, whom God mercifully sought to pardon.

Jonah was buried alive!! …and spend three horrifying days in a nightmare he could not wake up from: the smelly, stale air confines of a beast, a great fish, that probably was tossing him, metaphorically speaking, from roof to floor and side to side.  Atheism dismisses this as pure fable because we know of no such leviathan, although, we are told that 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct.1

The point of this very human story is being missed by these two exegetical extremes, because the real story traces the emotional turmoil of a prophet who had every sign of PTSD.2 The account, using a Hebrew word for “evil,” simply says that Jonah was heavily distressed, overwhelmingly miserable, and enraged.

…at God? You decide, but I don’t think the outward target of his rage is important. [Jonah 4:1]. Often we misdirect our anger when in pain. The Greek [LXX] is the best translation:  Jonah was in great pain—an emotional pain along with a pronounced physical discomfort.

The KJV says “displeased.”  Displeased is what I feel when a five year old son spills a glass of milk because he was fussing instead of eating his lunch.  “Displeased” doesn’t fit the moment you awaken by some miracle of God after having been Buried Alive!

After Jonah delivered God’s message, he retired east of town where his thoughts turned suicidal. [Jonah 4:3].  The Greek translation, again, is picturesque:  Jonah was in great pain.

We are sadly too anxious to discuss God’s mercy toward the  Gentiles to be too concerned about the experience of this wayward prophet, who—okay—was stupid to run from God.  I get it.  I get it: our theological interest in grace. …until it’s …me we’re talking about!  Then I don’t want to talk about people I think deserve something other than divine mercy while I’m imploding.

I like the last few verses in this prophecy in which God, being the God that He is, provides His servant, confused, perhaps, and hurting, with temporary shade that momentarily soothes his anxious spirit and gives him pause from all that has recently gone wrong in his life. …and then God asks, “Jonah, tell me what angers you so?  Tell me all about it, son.” [Jonah 4:4-8]

God knew.  God always knows!  Then God gently redirects Jonah’s thoughts forward to a merciful tomorrow, toward a time when God will be able to love even Ninevites. [Jonah 4:10-11]

If I’m on to something here, Jonah’s prejudice toward Nineveh, thanks to a storm and a fish, was no longer the center of the prophet’s attention.  He simply needed God.  He needed God’s touch on His own life which—I surmise—gave Jonah an altered perspective on a God Whose love cannot be exhausted on Israel or the tribe of Zebulon or the town of Gathhepher from where Jonah hailed. [2Ki 14:25]

And was God cruel for using something as tortuous as a three day ride in a “prepared fish” [Jonah 1:17]—even if the Creator had His Son on His mind at the time!

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 12:40

I won’t argue a response because life is riddled with misadventure and pain for every believer and an answer for Jonah has to work for all of us—don’t you think?  The straight truth is the such circumstances somehow provide God with far more visibility in our lives.  Somehow faith is purified in fire. [I Peter 1:7] ..and God does heal!

All I know is that the story begins with God’s servant running from Him and ends with this same servant talking to Him in meaningful prayer and communion.

1More than 99 percent of all species, amounting to over five billion species, that ever lived on Earth are estimated to have died out. Estimates on the number of Earth’s current species range from 10 million to 14 million, of which about 1.2 million have been documented and over 86 percent have not yet been described. Wiki

2PTSD symptoms:

  • Feeling upset by things that remind you of what happened
  • Having nightmares, vivid memories, or flashbacks of the event that make you feel like it’s happening all over again
  • Feeling emotionally cut off from others
  • Feeling numb or losing interest in things you used to care about
  • Feeling constantly on guard
  • Feeling irritated or having angry outbursts
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Being jumpy or easily startled
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The First Missionary

[Taken from my newest pamphlet: Understanding God: The Problem With Grace]

The first missionary ever to leave the comforts of familiar surroundings and loving companions was God Himself in the person of His Son.  The language barrier should not be ignored as an incidental difference.  

Moffat in his “Missionary Labors and Scenes in South Africa” gives us a very remarkable example of the disappearing of one of the most significant words from the language … the disappearing as well of the great spiritual …truth whereof that word was at once the vehicle and the guardian.

The Bechuanas … employed formerly the word ’Morimo,’ to designate ’Him that is above,’ or ’Him that is in Heaven,” and attached to the word the notion of a supreme Divine Being… Thus is it the ever repeated complaint of the Missionary that the very terms are well nigh or wholly wanting in the dialect … whereby to impart to him heavenly truths, or indeed even the nobler emotions of the human heart.⁠1

In the person of His Son, Jesus, God learned our language through much hardship⁠2 because language is more than words, it is culture and ideology down to the very pondering of the human heart.  Jesus faced a paganism in all of us, a darkness,  when He came to our world that had nothing in common with the one He left. When He gave up the comforts of the Kingdom from which He came⁠3 the Prince of Heaven lay aside the royal robes of such a glorious place and donned a beggar’s garb.  He was unrecognized and unwelcome but He was God’s ambassador, God’s first missionary; so, He learned to live among us.  He experienced the pain and joylessness of a spiritual poverty we were unaware of because we came to accept our world for what it was, not knowing there was another.

So the burden of God became the task of sharing His world with us in the language of young children, a language of expression and feeling, a non-technical language that must not try—because it could not—to describe or represent the glories of God’s heaven, God’s eternity, the infinite resources of His grace.  It was enough that we might imagine these things and trust Him to explain more later.  It was enough that He began to give us a child’s vision of love.⁠4  It was enough that we had reason again to hope.⁠5  It was enough that He gave us glimpses of possibilities beyond our impoverished condition.⁠6  The details of “golden streets” and angelic assemblies in praise will have to wait, meanwhile we imagine what it will be like. Don’t be too surprised if it turns out better!

It is our Bible that tells the story of God’s missionary journey among us in words that appear common but as Professor Trench reminds us:

“…words often contain a witness for great moral truths—God having impressed such a seal of truth upon language, that men are continually uttering deeper things than they know…”⁠7 

So Jesus began to share on the fringe of an infinite benevolence by healing the sick and raising the dead, but the crowds of followers didn’t get it.  Only a handful of followers, ignorant still in so many details, knew in their spirit that they should not forsake Him.⁠8 

We, too, long for the fuller revelation of what is meant by grace and the benefits of heaven. The words we now cherish in our theologies and the preachers’ sermon notes are indeed the language of children, the early embrace of a God whose love in full awaits that eternal day.

1 Richard C. Trench Synonyms of the New Testament pg 197
2 Hebrews 5:8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered
3 Philippians 2:7 he made himself nothing
4 Luke 18:17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
5 Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
6 2 Corinthians 5:5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
7 Richard C. Trench. On the Study of the Words Lectures.
8 John 6:68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

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