The August Theologian: The City of Justice

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But the fact is, true justice has no existence save in that republic whose founder and ruler is Christ, if at least any choose to call this a republic; and indeed we cannot deny that it is the people’s weal. But if perchance this name, which has become familiar in other connections, be considered alien to our common parlance, we may at all events say that in this city is true justice ; the city of which Holy Scripture says, ‘Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God.’ —Augustine, City of God

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run (Jonah 1:4–16)

 

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“But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” —Jonah 1:5 (ESV)

 

When dealing with Yahweh, whatever you do, don’t run! Additionally, it’s helpful to know that you’re always dealing with Yahweh. Because God is omnipresent, when you run from Him you can’t but run into Him, and you’ll always find that the side of God you run into is worse for you than the side you are running from.

Do not flee the One who can hurl “great winds.” We think it incredible when a pitcher can hurl a one hundred plus mile-per-hour fastball, and it is, but we can get our fingers on that. The average person can begin to approach that in measure. God grips what we cannot, the wind, in quantities beyond our comprehension, and hurls it so that the sea foams.

Man needs a bulky blower with some power supply to send bits of dust and grass off his driveway. God needs nothing. He hurls the wind simply by wiling it and He can do so with laser precision.

Know this, God does not simply watch the storm and it is a euphemism to say that He allows  storms. He hurls the wind. The psalmist sings, “He commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea,” (Psalm 107:24 ESV). Yahweh is the hurler of great winds and the lifter of waves. Weather patterns are not randomized nor do they run according to some complex algorithm that God programmed into the laws of nature. God didn’t design an automated smart-earth. He operates everything manually.

God doesn’t pitch wild. He can throw full force, straight down the pipe, without tiring. He can smack a giant between the eyes with a stone and He can rock a ship with the wind. This storm smack the glove—a little ship headed for Tarshsish.

If you are so foolish as to flee God, and we all are, don’t think you’re getting away with it because you make it fifty miles. God might just want to demonstrate how far and hard He can throw. God throws comets through the cosmos. He can hit you. He can throw over any distance without losing velocity because every pitch is a short pitch. He can throw such that the wind gains velocity, for He is there carrying the storm along its trajectory at every point.

The scariest thing about running from God is how far He might let you run. Don’t presume He will hurl wind and lift waves to bring you into obedience. He might let you sail off the edge of the world and into hell below. You might be in Israel and not be of Israel. You may grow in the church but prove to be nothing more than a weed to be plucked and thrown into the fire. But if you are His, He will keep you by His sovereign power. Either way, it is best not to test Him. When dealing with Yahweh, whatever you do, don’t run.

The August Theologian: Tares among the Wheat and Wheat among the Tares

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“Let these and similar answers (if any fuller and fitter answers can be found) be given to their enemies by the redeemed family of the Lord Christ, and by the pilgrim city of King Christ. But let this city bear in mind, that among her enemies lie hid those who are destined to be fellow citizens, that she may not think it a fruitless labor to bear what they inflict as enemies until they become confessors of the faith. So, too, as long as she is a stranger in the world, the city of God has in her communion, and bound to her by the sacraments, some who shall not eternally dwell in the lot of the saints. Of these, some are not now recognized; others declare themselves, and do not hesitate to make common cause with our enemies in murmuring against God, whose sacramental badge they wear. These men you may today see thronging the churches with us, tomorrow crowding the theatres with the godless. But we have the less reason to despair of the reclamation even of such persons, if among our most declared enemies there are now some, unknown to themselves, who are destined to become our friends. In truth, these two cities are entangled together in this world, and intermixed until the last judgment effect their separation.” —Augustine, The City of God

Swallowed (Jonah 1:1–3)

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One of the best introductions to the little book of Jonah is given by a fictional preacher, “Father Maple,” of what is hailed by many as the great American Novel, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

“Beloved shipmates, clinch the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah—‘And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.’ Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters—four yarns—is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sea-line sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish’s belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods surging over us; we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah.”

Though immersed in nautical terms, though that novel centers on a whale, Father Maple gets closer than many to the true message of the book. Maple was a former whaler and knows more of what Jonah is about than we landlubbers who are preoccupied with the great fish.

Father Maple said Jonah teaches a two-stranded lesson. The first lesson concerns the sin and repentance of Jonah. The second he later says is “to preach the truth in the face of falsehood.” 

Still, Father Maple misses the greatest point of this little book. Greater than Jonah’s sin and greater than Nineveh’s repentance is God’s mercy. God’s grace makes blue whales look smaller than the krill they feast on. God’s grace is so great, a multitude of blue whale-size sinners can swim and live in it.

G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God.” The most astounding thing that happens in this book isn’t that God appoints a fish to swallow Jonah, but that he appoints His grace to swallow sinners. This is a whale of a tale, a big fish story—and it is true. God’s grace really is that big.

Ethical Eschatology (2 Peter 3:11–18)

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness… (2 Peter 3:11).”

Eschatology is that field of theology that concerns the study of the eschaton, that is, the end. Eschatology has fallen on hard times and most often evokes an “Eek!” or and “Eh?”. I believe there are two primary reasons this is so:

First, we fail to remember that all the New Testament is eschatological. Jesus inaugurated the last days. This is why the gospels tell us that the kingdom has come, Peter preaches that Joel’s prophecy concerning the last days is being fulfilled, the author of Hebrews tells us that these are the last days, and John tells us it is the last hour. The eschaton is here now, but not yet fully here.

Second, I lay the bulk of the blame at the feet of Bible-prophecy man, who with his abundance of charts, outlandish interpretations, and flopped predictions has caused many to become cynical. These Chicken Littles have cried “Shepherd!” so many times that we’re no longer on guard against wolves. Because true Biblical eschatology isn’t taught, we’re more prone to accept a counterfeit, so long as it doesn’t get Left Behind weird.

None of this is to say that we don’t think of the end at all, only that, as a result, we don’t think about it seriously. We now reflect on the end only in light of the inevitability death and only enough so as to pacify our conscious and comfort our sorrows. True eschatology though not only gives us hope in death, it gives us grace to live.

It has been said, “You can be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” To this we might add, “you can be so focused on the future that you lose the present.” There is a sense in which these are true, but they obscure a greater truth. If your meditation on heaven and focus on the future cause you be worthless in the present, you’re doing it wrong.

The fruit of Bible-chart man’s teaching often bears bad fruit indicating that he doesn’t know how to garden eschatology so as to bear the fruit God intended. Whenever he leads you through Revelation the result is often anxiety, panic, and fear of the wrong sort. This is because eschatology is not a mystery to be solved, but a truth to be lived out. Readiness for the coming of Christ isn’t a matter of chronological awareness but ethical preparedness. Eschatology is ethical. Every time eschatology is taught in the New Testament, there is an ethical bent to it.

Instead of trying to solve the mystery, live as though it were true and you will find peace instead of anxiety.

The August Theologian: Our Consolation

The whole family of God, most high and most true, has therefore a consolation of its own—a consolation which cannot deceive, and which has in it a surer hope than the tottering and falling affairs of earth can afford. They will not refuse the discipline of this temporal life, in which they are schooled for life eternal; nor will they lament their experience of it, for the good things of earth they use as pilgrims who are not detained by them, and its ills either prove or improve them. As for those who insult over them in their trials, and when ills befall them say, “Where is thy God?” we may ask them where their gods are when they suffer the very calamities for the sake of avoiding which they worship their gods, or maintain they ought to be worshipped ; for the family of Christ is furnished with its reply: our God is everywhere present, wholly everywhere; not confined to any place. He can be present unperceived, and be absent without moving; when He exposes us to adversities, it is either to prove our perfections or correct our imperfections; and in return for our patient endureance of the sufferings of time, He reserves for us an everlasting reward. —Augustine, The City of God