Good Theology and a Bad Heart: A Lesson From Jonah

At the time of writing this post, I will begin preaching through Jonah this coming Sunday. By the time this post appears, I will have already preached two sermons from this book. (The timing of these two sentences is making my head hurt!)

I have learned so much in my preparation, and one thing has stood out to me: Jonah had an incredible grasp of theology. He was a faithful prophet of the LORD (2 Kings 14:25). Implied in that is a grasp of God’s Word as well as the belief that God is a communicating God.

We learn a lot more about Jonah’s theology from the book that bears his name. Jonah has a deep understanding of the holiness of God. It is encapsulated in his message from the LORD (1:2). Jonah understood that God was sovereign over His creation. He acknowledged that the LORD “made the sea and the dry land” (1:9, ESV). Along those same lines, he reasoned that the LORD was in control of this dire storm (1:12). Jonah’s understanding of God’s providence through his experiences are further testified in chapter 2. We read in his prayer, “you cast me into the deep” (2:3a) “all your waves and your billows passed over me” (2:3b, ESV).

Additionally, Jonah had a biblical view of God’s grace and forgiveness. After being vomited onto dry land by the fish, the LORD gives Jonah a second change to preach, and Jonah obeys. He preaches the message of judgment (3:3-4). Now, it must be said that Jonah did not preach the possibility of forgiveness, only judgment. Yet, in chapter 4 we see Jonah’s response at the repentance of the Ninevites (3:6-10). He says, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (4:2, ESV) Jonah knew that God was a forgiving God.

To summarize, then, Jonah had a firm grasp of the following theological truths:

  • Jonah knew the Word of God
  • God was a communicating God
  • God’s holiness
  • God’s creative power
  • God’s providential reign over His creation
  • God’s grace and forgiveness

What, then, was the problem? Jonah’s problem, and far too often our problem, is that his theology was disconnected from his life. In other words, Jonah was a hearer of the Word and not a doer (cf. James 1:22). Jonah’s theology was orthodox, but his life was abysmal. He knew that the Lord was holy, yet failed to live holy (cf. 1 Pet. 1:16).

What does this have to do with us? As I considered the fleeing prophet, I asked myself, “What does this have to do with me?” It shows us that orthodox doctrine alone is not righteous. You do not truly love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength if your theology is right and your life is not (cf. Matt. 22:37-40). I have personally witnessed individuals who’s theology is orthodox, mature, and well-articulated, yet their lives could not be further from the Truth. We witness this on social media on a regular basis.

We also experience it in daily life. I have had the privilege of working for several companies. In addition, I have formed friendships with many different people. One of the most disappointing experiences was working with individuals who knew theological truths but failed to live in accordance with the Scriptures. As I consider my life, I wonder how many times my life contradicted my theological beliefs? Oh God, please forgive me for this depravity!

As we read Jonah, let us consider his theological correctness and the divide between his head and his life. Let us, through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, balance a right life with right doctrine. Let us life and believe in a way that God is honored and our fellow human beings are helped.

Bavinck Blessings

How do we determine right from wrong? What factors into our assessments of what is good and evil? Have you ever pondered these questions? What do they imply? What do they not consider? How are they applied?

As we consider these questions, and similar ones that we have not raised, how can we provide an answer? If you ask the world at large, a hundred possible answers can be and typically are offered. But what is the foundation? Isn’t that just your opinion? Of course, this is often the response to Christians, as well as others, who attempt to present any concrete answers.

As I was reading about the communicable attributes of God as discussed by the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, I was struck at his answer to my unasked questions. His answer comes from his discussion on God. He writes, “[The order of] justice, in the Bible, is not a property of God’s ‘absolute dominion’ but rests on a moral foundation….it is God himself who gives his creatures ‘rights’ (so to speak)….God is the supreme Lawgiver, and that the entire order of justice undergirding every domain of life is rooted in him.” (227)

How do we determine right from wrong? Through God.

What factors into our assessments of what is good and evil? Through God.

We know God through revelation (which Bavinck treats at length in volume I of his Reformed Dogmatics). We have the foundation of justice in God and God alone. Bavinck says, “Justice above all is the way in which the grace and love of God are maintained and made to triumph.” (228) We have another Bavinck Blessing!


Check out the previous blessing from Bavinck here.

You can purchase Reformed Dogmatics here.

What is God?

Q. 7: What is God?

A. 7: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

(John 4:24, Job 11:7-9, Psalm 90:2, James 1:17, Exodus 3:14, Psalm 147:5, Revelation 4:8, 15:4, and Exodus 34:6)

EXPLANATION

Since God is the first and chiefest being, and since God has graciously provided His Word that gives us the knowledge that we need about Him as well as how to live for Him. It is important, then, that we know who and what God is. The Baptist Catechism provides a helpful, brief, and packed answer to the question, “What is God?”

Without getting into too much nerdy detail (and trust me, this is really difficult for me!), theologians have regularly divided God’s attributes (or, characteristics, and many other labels) into communicable and incommunicable attributes.

What do these mean? Berkhof helps distinguish these two terms when he writes, “While the incommunicable attributes emphasize the absolute Being of God, the communicable attributes stress the fact that He enters into various relations with His creatures.”[1] So we could delineate these terms further (and possibly simpler) by saying that God’s incommunicable attributes are what make Him God (e.g., infinite) while His communicable attributes are those that we experience (or, demonstrate, e.g. His holiness).

The Catechism, as we have noted, is not exhaustive. It is meant to be a teaching tool, providing the foundation truths of the faith and encouraging further study and contemplation. Even with that, however, the Catechism provides ten answers to the question, “What is God?”

Books have and will be written. The infinity of God provides a never-ending source of materials for study and praise. How can we summarize this important and life-changing question? God, though completely transcendent (i.e., out of our reach), He is also immanent (i.e., close and understandable to a finite degree), has graciously revealed Himself to us. The Scriptures cited above offer a presentation of these ten aspects of God (which include communicable and incommunicable attributes).

APPLICATION

As with all these attributes, we could spend eternity and never plunge its depths. We will, therefore, limit our applicational thought on one facet: God’s holiness. In Revelation 15:4, the individuals who were victorious over the beast (15:2) declare to the Lord, “For You alone are holy” (NASB). God is holy. That is what God is, if you will. There are a variety of ways to describe this, such as God’s separateness from creation and His moral perfection. But how can we apply this knowledge? Peter offers us a helpful and direct way in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy” (NASB). In other words, be like God. Imitate Him, represent Him to others, strive for holiness!

Search the Scriptures for the incommunicable attributes and praise Him for His grace! Study and live the Scriptures as you learn about the communicable attributes and praise Him for His grace. What is God? Our God is unimaginably marvelous!


[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology: New Combined Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1938), 57-58. You can purchase it <a href="http://<iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=librarymusing-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=1773563319&asins=1773563319&linkId=77d3318bfa191c37dad7a91e36e72fed&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff"> here.

What is in the Bible?

QUESTION SIX


Q. 6: What things are chiefly contained in the Holy Scripture?
A. 6: The Holy Scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God required of man.
(2 Timothy 1:13, 3:15-16)


EXPLANATION


The Baptist Catechism continues building on the construction project, brick by brick. We have answered several questions (please see links below if you have not read them). The Catechism addresses what the Scriptures contain in this question, which we will see the importance of momentarily.


First, I wanted to discuss the way this question is asked. The framers of the Confession and Catechism carefully choose their words. The Catechism asks what things are “chiefly” contained in the Scriptures. Why chiefly? Because, as anyone familiar with the Holy Scriptures will declare, there is a lot more than doctrine and practice. One example is the genealogies (e.g., see Genesis 10). Now, they are important for a variety of reasons (all of which are outside the scope of this post), but they do not directly teach any doctrine or provide examples of piety (practice). They do teach, however, chiefly the things we should believe about God and our duties toward Him. Let’s look at those.


Doctrine


The first of the two-part answer is “what man ought to believe concerning God.” That is, doctrine. Doctrine, defined in a Christian way, is simply teaching. Specifically, it is the teachings contained in the Scriptures and taught by the pastors and elders of the church. It involves items such as God, humanity, sin, and many other topics. This teaching is found in the Holy Scriptures. Though creeds and confessions are helpful (only as they are based in Scripture), they do not take authority over Scripture. What do we believe? We believe what the Scriptures teach.


Practice


The second of the two-part answer is “what duty God required of man.” The Holy Scriptures do not only teach what we should believe (which, as we will discuss below, has enormous implications for what we do), they also teach us what to do. This is our practice or our lifestyle (cf. Phil. 1:27). The Scriptures teach us how we are to live. How do we live as husbands? The Scriptures tell us. How do we function with the government? The Scriptures tell us. How do we handle our finances? Surprise, surprise, the Scriptures tell us!


APPLICATION

The applications of this question and answer are as broad and wide as the Holy Scriptures themselves. On an individual level, we apply the doctrines of Scripture to our understanding and beliefs. It is not “what I think is…” or “I believe that…” but “The Scriptures teach…” These are important distinctions that must be made and kept. We have all sorts of influences on our beliefs. Educational institutions, culture, friends and family, backgrounds and ethnicities, all of these and more affect our beliefs. While there is nothing we can do about most of these, we should always check their validity to the Scriptures. Paul teaches us this in 2 Tim. 1:13, “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (CSB)

Paul understood his words to be inspired from God (see 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Additionally, we should apply the practical aspects from Scripture to our lives. For example, if you are a husband, you should utilize Paul’s teaching in Eph. 5:25-31 to live as a husband. The Scriptures give practical teaching such as this on almost every page. We do not live, in other words, the way we want to but the way Scripture tells us to live.


Corporately, as in involving the Church (and I mean individual, local churches) this question and answer gives us the truths we are to believe and the way we are to conduct our services. This truth provides freedom and boundaries on what churches can or cannot do. That is, there are some aspects of worship that are not allowed in the house of God (i.e., the church) that are okay in homes. Does our church hold to these truths? Does our church hold to these practices? These are important questions that we must know and answer in accordance with the Scriptures.

Bavinck Blessings

What does God’s omniscience mean for me? As a theologian, I love contemplating the amazing (and infinite) depths of our Triune God. I look forward to an eternity of learning about my Savior. But God knows all. There is nothing outside of His knowledge.

Herman Bavinck, the Dutch Reformer and theologian, discusses God’s knowledge at length in his second volume of Reformed Dogmatics. Bavinck writes, “God knows things not by observation, but from and of himself. Our knowledge is posterior: it presupposes their existence and is derived from it. Exactly the opposite is true of God’s knowledge: he knows everything before it exists….he knows all things in and of and by himself. For that reason his knowledge is undivided, simple, unchangeable, eternal. He knows all things instantaneously, simultaneously, from eternity; all things are eternally present to his mind’s eye.” (Reformed Dogmatics, II, 196)

We cannot grasp these statements; let alone the truth they communicate. I find his last statement particularly wonderful, “He knows all things instantaneously, simultaneously, from eternity; all things are eternally present to his mind’s eye.” What a glorious truth! The Scripture, as Bavinck points out, clearly and consistently teaches this truth. It is wonderful and, to me at least, soul-stirring. But what does it mean for the average Christian?

First, this incredible truth deserves our unhindered worship. After a lengthy discussion of God’s election, Paul bursts out with praise, writing, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! To him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:33, 36b, CSB) As we attempt to grasp God’s unimaginable knowledge, we should be moved to utter praises to Him.

Second, this wonderful reality should comfort us. God knows all things fully, at all times, and in every conceivable way. This means that God knows what tomorrow holds. He understands, infinitely so, the different paths that His children walk. We can trust Him completely, as Sovereign Lord of creation, because He knows all things fully and completely. This is the same God that Paul tells us works all things for our good (Rom. 8:28).

Third, building upon the previous truth, we can rest in the daily difficulties. When we receive bad news from the doctor, when we are involved in an accident, when someone hurts our feelings, all of these are in God’s mind. He knows everything. Add to this the truth of the incarnation of Jesus, and we are left with a God who knows by His deity and by His experience the troubles we face (cf. Heb. 4:14-16).

Check out the previous blessing from Bavinck here.

You can purchase Reformed Dogmatics here.