By Cam Roxburgh
O to grace how great a debtor 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
(Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing)
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 the Bible when God gave people “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. Moses, tending his Father-in-law’s flocks, having run away from Egypt and the trouble there, 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 that I am.” Or, YHWH. Throughout Exodus we come to see God as more than just the Almighty, but He is the One who redeems, 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. 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 comes to Jonah and gives him another assignment. It certainly was not one he asked for, or one that he welcomed. In fact the complete opposite. It made no sense. God was sending him to a people other than the Jews (that was a first) and these were the worst people on the face of the earth. And then the message that he was to deliver—he must have heard that incorrectly as well! God wanted him to go and speak a message of mercy.
We know this whale tale. Whether through Sunday school or Veggie Tales we have heard of the fish and the failure of Jonah. But 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. And shows mercy to them. And 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 would be 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.
Domenico Fetti’s depiction of Peter’s dream.
So Peter dreams. He is called to the home of Cornelius and after consultation goes and 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. He is no longer to call impure that which God has made pure. Food, or fellow human being. The gospel is to be preached in Jerusalem and Judea, but also in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Peter has his 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?