A lot of reading accomplished, and a few papers later, I am finally ready to finish up this two part post on theology. I know you were on the edge of your seats waiting for this one. If you missed the first post that deals with the posture and attitude I believe we should have when approaching theology, you can check it out here.
This post has less to do with posture and more to do with tactics, or I guess I should say a tactic. I want to focus on one thing very specifically when it comes to trying to understand God and do theology well.
God looks like Jesus
God has told us exactly what He is like in Jesus, there is no need to guess. That probably doesn’t strike anyone as too revolutionary. Most people who would consider themselves to be Christian would probably say “duh” to that idea. However, I don’t think Christians do a great job of keeping that in mind when tackling theology and thinking about God. Let me give an example.
You want to consider how God thinks of you when you do something against what He would want. You’ve done something wrong and you think, “To understand how God feels we should go to the scripture.” Now I am all on board with it so far, but what is more important than going to scripture is how we interpret it. This matters because it is easy to find yourself reading a passage like Isaiah 26:21 which says
For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.
Now, it would be good to read all of Isaiah and see how the story ends, but just reading that passage alone you will naturally come to the conclusion that God is looking to punish you. Then your mind might drift to think that God delights in my punishment. You might consider the title of Jonathan Edwards sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Now you are in great despair having convinced yourself that God is in rage against you and is looking to make you pay big time.
Doesn’t that just warm the heart? This would be a good time to throw in my rule. In addition to reading the Bible in the correct context while considering the original readers culture and background, I want to say that we need to read the Bible most importantly in light of the revelation of Jesus. Jesus should be the lens through which we approach any biblical text. After all Jesus is the word of God (John 1) and the exact expression of God’s nature (Hebrews 1). If we have seen Him then we have seen the Father (John 14:9).
John 1 talks of how no one has ever seen God at any time. That’s an interesting claim considering that Moses saw His backside and Isaiah saw Him in His throne room. John says that those don’t even count in comparison to the revelation that we have in Jesus. He says the one and only Son has revealed God. Jesus is truly a look into the heart and character of God.
Now take this with the passages that tell of Jesus going around freely offering mercy, healing the sick, identifying with the “sinners,” and you will perhaps begin to see God seeing you and your shortcomings in a different light. Maybe you will see God viewing you as sick (Mark 2:15–18). You might see Jesus looking at you as partially a victim of fallen humanity as well as a participant. Someone who needs a physician, not someone to exact punishment.
Jesus redefines scripture. Jesus take precedence over scripture. Scripture is that which testifies to Him (John 5:39). We should never read scripture in such a way that it would be at odds with the superior revelation we have in Jesus.
Now I am not advocating some weak reading where Jesus never has anything to say about judgment or sin. He absolutely does. Frequently even, and we need to pay close attention to it. I simply want to make sure that we are examining Jesus over all else to determine who God is and what He wants.
Another quick example is part of Jesus’ famous sermon on the mount (Matthew 5–7). In here Jesus famously says,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Now this is interesting because within this Jesus is actually quoting Old Testament law (Ex. 21:24, Lv. 24:20, Dt. 19:21). Jesus then takes these laws and goes further! He says you’ve heard that but here is how you are to live: turn the other cheek. No more eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth. This is a great example of where we can read the Old Testament and come away with a concept that is no longer sufficient based on the superior revelation and instruction we have in Jesus.
So read the Old Testament to understand God. Look to philosophy to gain insights into God. These things are fine. (I would say some things are much more reliable than others) But do so always by moving those ideas through the qualifier that is Jesus. Take to heart the mindset that Paul has when he says, “When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. For I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1–2, emphasis added)
Continue to understand God. Do so always by looking at the living Word, Jesus of Nazareth. He perfectly reveals the Father, there is no need go guess.
I plan to write at a later time about taking this concept even further. I would argue that not only must we put all that we read and believe through the filter of Jesus, but more specifically the crucified Christ. We must see the core and heart of God revealed in his desire to die before wanting to give someone what they deserve.
But that is for another day.
Peace be with you.