Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
—Come Thou Fount
One of the problems with sin is that it leads us away from a relationship with the Lord, both as individuals and as a community of His people. We wander; we drift; we do our own thing. But the Lord is gracious and slow to anger. He is faithful and calls His people to return to Him and to bear witness to the reality of the fact that He is about redeeming all things.
There are key moments in Scripture when God gave individuals a renewed theological vision in order that His people might be called out of captivity—either real or of their own doing—and returned to a right relationship with Him.
One of the most obvious was with Moses. We all recall the meeting at the burning bush. Tending his father-in-law’s flocks after having run away from Egypt and the trouble that was a reality there, Moses is mesmerized by the sight of the burning bush and approaches to determine what is happening. There he encounters God, who gives him a renewed theological vision of who He is.
In chapters 3 and 6 of Exodus, God explains to Moses that his forefathers had known God as El-Shaddai—the Almighty, or All Powerful One. Now God invites Moses and his people to know Him as “I am who I am,” or YHWH. Throughout Exodus we come to see God as more than just the Almighty; He is the one who redeems and saves, the one who leads them to life, and the one who does this for the sake of the world. YHWH invites Moses to join Him on mission as He leads His people out of slavery to a promised land so that others may know that He is God. It sounds very prophetic to me.
Jonah is another example of a time when God gives a renewed theological vision.
Jonah had done his duty, so he thought. Put to work by the king in previous years, he was perhaps in a state of retirement. Then God came to him and gave him another assignment. It certainly is not one he asked for or one that he welcomes. In fact, it is the complete opposite. It makes no sense. God is sending him to a people other than the Jews, which is a first, and these are the worst people on the face of the earth. And then the message that he is to deliver—well he must have heard that incorrectly as well. God wants him to go and speak a message of mercy.
We know this whale of a tale. Whether through Sunday school or VeggieTales, we have heard of the fish and the failure of Jonah. What is amazing in the midst of the story is that Jonah is a messenger not only to the Ninevites, but to the Jews and indeed to us. God is not only found among His people, but He is found present in the midst of those who seem to have rejected Him—the world. And He loves them. He even shows mercy to them. Jonah is not only surprised with who God is, but indeed angry because this new revelation does not fit with the box he had put God comfortably in.
Peter and Cornelius are a great example in the New Testament. Once again we see God pushing His people to realize that the Gospel is to be preached to more than just the Jews and that the religious laws were a means to an end and not the end itself.
Peter dreams. He is called to the home of Cornelius and after consultation learns that God is no longer to be found in the food laws of His people, but rather in a freedom that reflects an allegiance to who He is. Peter is no longer to call impure that which God has made pure, whether food or fellow human being. The Gospel is to be preached in Jerusalem and Judea, but also in Samaria and the ends of the earth. Peter has a renewed theological vision of who God is and how the church is to function.
Might it be true that we as God’s people today have drifted and also need a renewed theological vision of the church on mission? Perhaps our understanding of God is too narrow, our box for Him too small. Lesslie Newbigin’s writings all began with a conviction that the church in the West was experiencing a cultural captivity that we were oblivious to. Or perhaps we were guilty of doing the very thing that J. B. Phillips warned against in his rendition of Romans 12: “Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.”
Perhaps these three prepositions will give us a way to reflect on how we understand God.
John 1 and other passages indicate that Christ is in the world. Jonah was astounded that God was inNineveh. The Israelites were amazed that God was in Babylon. We need to have a fresh look at the implications of God’s presence in the world. We need to learn to see God in our neighborhoods—active and at work. The implications for us are that we as a church need to stop coming up with all of these plans for changing the world and instead learn to discern where God is already at work and join in with him. It may also mean that we need to pay careful attention to the way in which we learn to live in the world as witnesses to Him.
The book of Exodus, in addition to other Scriptures, indicates that God is for people. Often we have understood Him to be against this and opposed to that, but we need to be renewed in our understanding that even His name carries with it the sense that He is for people. It does not mean that He approves of what we do or that He turns a blind eye to our sin, but rather that fundamentally God is for us and for the world. Even God’s holiness means that this is true. If that is so, the implications for us must be that as we seek to be holy as He is holy, we too need to be known for what we are forand not so much for what we are against. This also has implications for how we learn to stand up for those who are disadvantaged and less privileged, learning to differentiate between the empires of the world and the Kingdom of God.
Immanuel. God with us. We know it intellectually, but I wonder if we may need to actually realize it practically. God is in the world and for the world. And He sends us to go and be His hands and feet and mouth to practice and proclaim the reality of the Kingdom. But we need to understand that we are His kids and that He promises to be with us. The implication for us is that we no longer rely on our own strength, but instead learn to trust in Him and rely on the power of the Spirit at work within us. It also means we need to learn to live as a covenant community instead of a collection of contracted individuals.
God is a missionary God who is at work in the world, is for the world, and invites us to put our confidence in Him as He uses us to redeem all things.