Presenting God as He Defines Himself in His Word

Michael Grisanti | March 5, 2019

One of the common features of a postmodern world is the rejection of any exclusive truth claims. Postmodernism views all truth as relative and any exclusive truth claims as arrogant, offensive, and impossible. As we live and minister in that kind of a world, how should we preach and teach God’s Word and present God’s character to those to whom we minister?

What our world needs to hear is a biblically-based presentation of God in all His glory, majesty, and power

On the one hand, we must navigate the fine line between those beliefs and practices that are non-negotiable and those that are negotiable. In light of the Bible’s teaching on “liberty” and the issues of a weaker and stronger conscience, there are times when we must not be adamant about the need for everyone to accept our understanding or arrange their lives according to that understanding. Here are some examples: what music should we listen to, what movies should we watch, can a believer drink a glass of wine, etc. There is room to disagree without rancor in these cases. Of course, there are biblical principles that offer guidance concerning these issues, but broadly speaking, if the Bible does not explicitly or clearly address a given issue, we need to allow room for disagreement rather than holding to our preference as an exclusive truth claim.

On the other hand, generally, the above reality is not what threatens the church. Even though this arrogance of a “just my way” attitude can be destructive, it is not as dangerous as the other extreme, reticence. This is a “whatever way works for you” attitude about all beliefs—especially those that are explicitly, clearly, and repeatedly taught in Scripture.

We do not want to crash on either rock of extremity, but desire to allow the Bible to determine those exclusive truth claims that guide our lives and provide content to our preaching and teaching.

Jonah’s View of God’s Character

Doubtless, there are numerous truth claims presented by the Word of God that should serve as core values for every believer that longs to honor our great God. I would like to focus on one passage’s definition of God from the book of Jonah. Although this is not necessarily a controversial passage that the postmodernists try to hijack, it makes a central point. God Himself defines who He is and that biblical definition should impact our living and preaching in far-reaching ways.

We are familiar with the account of the prophet Jonah who was totally opposed to carrying God’s message to the Ninevites. Chapter 1, however, gives us no idea of the grounds for Jonah’s opposition to God’s directive. Later, after Jonah’s deliverance from death by the great fish, his preaching the divinely appointed message of imminent judgment on the Ninevites, and the widespread repentance that caused God to withdraw this promised punishment (to Jonah’s horror), we read what originally drove Jonah to flee in the opposite direction, away from Nineveh. What he knew to be true of God drove him to rebel against God’s command. He was afraid that Yahweh would flesh out those character traits toward the rotten, cruel Ninevites. He declared:

…I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

– Jonah 4:2b

Gracious

“Gracious” refers to God’s generous giving of blessings that are undeserved. The giver is the superior, who is under no obligation to be gracious. The recipient has no merit to justify any such treatment. 

Merciful

“Merciful” describes God extending compassion not only to those who do not deserve it, but also to those who desperately need it. It is helpful to note that this word is closely related to the word for a woman’s womb. This word association provides an illustration for the meaning of this virtue. This word stresses the feelings of compassion a mother would feel for her child, the product of her womb. The tender, loving care a mother gives to her child is illustrative of the compassion God feels for His spiritual children. You can be sure that however strong a mother feels for her child, God’s compassion for His children exceeds that infinitely.

Slow to Anger

As the God who was “slow to anger,” God withholds His judgment on sin or patiently endures as He gives sinners the opportunity to repent (2 Peter 3:9). He is ever so slow to reach the point where He must express His divine wrath. He is longsuffering to those who are falling short of His desires, yearning that before judgment must fall, they will repent of their godless practices. 

Steadfast Love

Jonah also knew that Yahweh abounded in “steadfast love”. This loyal/steadfast/covenant love was closely connected with the covenant God made with Israel. It seems to highlight the determination of God to be faithful to His covenant and thereby to His people. It refers to God’s persistent, sure covenant love for His people all through the ages.

Relenting from Disaster

Finally, Jonah’s God was characterized by “relenting from disaster” (or relenting from bringing disaster). The basic point is that if people genuinely repent, God is willing to withdraw His promised punishment.

Letting God’s Character Change the Way We Live

What Jonah knew to be true of his God was absolutely correct. This same collection of divine traits occurs in numerous other OT passages (Exod 34:6-7; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Pss 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Nah 1:3). The horrifying reality was that what Jonah knew to be true of his God had no clear impact on the way he lived. We all face the scary prospect of having correct knowledge of key truths (in our head) that do not tangibly impact our lives (through our hearts).

Besides that danger, we face another danger in our postmodern world. With all the emphasis on tolerance and pluralism, we are pressed to dilute (or even reject) the clear and distinctive presentation of God found in the Scriptures. You have probably heard people say, “My God would not do that!” The world presses us to define God in a way that destroys His incomparability and avoids offending anyone who might have a different idea.

What our world needs to hear is a biblically-based presentation of God in all His glory, majesty, and power. He is the one and only God to whom all mankind will have to give an answer. Postmodern thinking (any way is fine) leads to postmodern living (any conduct is fine). May that never characterize our life or preaching. An absolutely distinctive God of great power deserves nothing less than followers who live clearly distinctive lives that point all around them to that awesome God.

In a postmodern world that rejects exclusive truth claims, let’s commit ourselves to be preachers and teachers who place the spotlight of our preaching and teaching on the great God of the universe, as the Bible defines Him.


Michael Grisanti avatar
Michael Grisanti is a Professor of Old Testament and the Director of the Israel Study Trip at TMS.

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