Saturday, April 1, 2017

Jonah’s Decision

One of the most interesting characters in all of the Bible has to be Jonah the prophet. Just about everyone knows at least some of the story of Jonah, especially the part where he is swallowed up by the big fish (most of the stories, especially children’s stories, say it was a whale) and, after three days, is spat up by the fish unto dry land. But often we read Jonah’s adventure without really understanding what the book is all about. In the story of Jonah, we are faced with some very important issues that we all come face to face with at one time or another. They are the sovereignty of God, man’s decisions and Jesus’ resurrection. And it is God’s sovereignty that I’d like to discuss briefly here.
When it comes to the sovereignty of God, there are seemingly as many beliefs as there are people. One of the most dominant is the idea that God’s sovereignly choses to not be sovereign. I know, that sounds rather counterintuitive. After all, reason would dictate that in order for one to be sovereign, he has to exercise that sovereignty in all areas in which he is sovereign. Since God is sovereign over all, then he by definition will exercise that sovereignty over all. If there is one area where God does not exercise his sovereignty, then he is, again by definition, not sovereign in that area. You can see the absurdity of that stance, but man will engage in such silliness all in the irresistible pursuit of free will for the creature.
But Jonah shows us with great clarity, the absolute sovereignty that God holds over his creation. I used to be of the group who had an idea that went something like this. “God choses someone to do his work (for example, Judas to betray Christ), based on what he knows about that person. But if that person does not cooperate with God, well then he just goes and finds someone else that will do it.” Although that sounds rather strange to my ears now, I really thought that that was a reasonable belief to hold. But think about the implications of such a scenario. Imagine the God of the universe going through hundreds, nay, thousands of people trying to find the one person who will cooperate and bring about his desired end! Those who hold such an idea would tell us that God foresees the one who will cooperate and based on that foreknowledge, he then is chosen for the task. Aside from a fundamental misunderstanding of what foreknowledge is all about, this scenario has another intractable problem. If these people are simply, passively foreseen to be carrying out these actions, then God is not the one who wants them carried out. The creature has decided on his own, somehow, to do these things.
Then there are those who are of the Molinist bent. These are the ones who tell us that God foresees every possible world before he decides to create one. Having thus seen every possible world, with every possible action of every possible creature in every possible situation, he then goes about creating the world that He determines will bring the most people into the kingdom. Thus, God is reduced to a gigantic computer in the sky who carries out countless calculations in an attempt to carry out his desired end: the salvation of the most people possible.
Jonah, however, shows us that God is not simply hoping that the creature will do what He wants them to do. He is in complete control of not only the situation, but the creature as well. God did not tell Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach if he felt like it. He did not ask Jonah his opinion or whether he felt this was a good thing to do. Neither did He ask Jonah if he wanted to go. He simply ordered Jonah to go and, when he refused, ensured that the circumstances would be such that Jonah would have no choice in the matter. This was not God asking one of his creatures for his cooperation. This was God determining to bring about his desired end through his chosen vessel and then going about making it happen; whether the vessel wanted to or not.
No doubt many will tell us that God does such things in certain extreme circumstances or that he only does them with some people. But nowhere do we find such an idea in the pages of the Bible. All throughout the Book, God is seen accomplishing his ends with or without man’s cooperation. The idea that God somehow needs man’s ascent to carry out His will is not only without foundation, but comes from the heart of a creature who just cannot bring himself to believe that he is nothing more than a vessel prepared for a certain end.
One of the main issues of the Reformation was whether man has “free will” of whether his will is subject to the will of the creator. The Roman Catholic idea was (and is) that man, in cooperation with God, could bring about his salvation and God’s work in the world. The Reformers, however, understood that it is God who determines, as Daniel put it, the seasons and the times, and that nothing is outside his control. As Luther so poignantly put it to Erasmus during their debate on the will of man, “you have put your finger on the matter” when discussing the will of man and the will of God. For if we are the ones that ultimately determine the course of our lives, if we are the “captains” of our destinies, then God is relegated to a bystander and his plan is nothing more than a hope. As one apologist so ably puts it, “God tossed the cosmic dice and saw that he won and exulted ‘Oh good, I win.’”
If our God is nothing more than reacting to our whims, he is no more worthy of service than the idols that the Greeks of Paul’s day worshipped. In their rush to preserve the free will of man, many have created a God in their own image. They believe that God is altogether such as they are, forgetting that we cannot possibly hold God accountable to our sense of fairness or rightness. On the contrary, it is God who holds us accountable, and it is God who will in the end decide who will be with him throughout eternity. Unless we understand this concept and make it ours, our lives will always be missing its most important ingredient: the peace that passes understanding.
When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought the I Am was exactly like you. But I now arraign you and set my accusations before you.
Psalm 50:21

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