“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 1:4 ESV)
God acts concretely in the Jonah narrative. God hurls. God appoints, a fish; a plant; a worm; a strong east wind. He does these things, not in the abstract, but in the concrete.
If a meteorologist had studied the maps in the moments leading up to this storm, what would he have seen? Did God arrange for this storm using natural means, or was it a surprising, inexplicable occurrence? Or what about the fish (1:17)? Did it have a mommy fish, growing the way that fish grow? And did God move the boat to where the fish was, or the fish to where the boat was? Could God have created that fish right then and there, so that Jonah was its very first meal?
Whether or not God worked through means and processes, or whether He acted in more radical fashion, what we have are God’s acts in the concrete. But in our world today, we are often left with only abstract references to God and abstract expectations of God.
When someone says, “Well, I guess the good Lord was watching out for me today,” he probably is referring more to a god-idea or god-principle than he is to the Almighty God who breaks into history to accomplish His purposes. I am not arguing against the providence of God. Not by any means. I am arguing against the widespread notion of God that denies His fierce reality. When we say, “Watch out! God might strike you with lightning!” we don’t really believe that God might actually do that. We don’t really believe in that kind of God, who stops people in their tracks, or puts His finger on a prophet gone AWOL.
Not only is God really real, but so is the incarnation and resurrection of His Son. Jesus really rose from the dead, in the concrete, not just in abstraction. Some teach that Jesus rose “spiritually.” Somehow we are to be inspired with this sentiment. But Jesus’ resurrection actually involved the reversal of all the effects of death in a human body that had already begun. It is this physical, concrete resurrection which assures us that the concrete God will work again to make a New Creation that is rid of sin and evil. It’s more than just an idea or theory. It is a confident, concrete expectation.
And so, then, Christians should be more than abstract Christians. Am I a concrete follower of Christ? Do faith, hope and love have concrete expressions in my life, clinging to God’s Word over my own senses; living beyond current conveniences in the expectation for future glory; sacrificing self for the sake of others?
A merely abstract God is no God at all.
A merely abstract Jesus is no Savior at all.
A merely abstract Christian is no Christian at all.
A final word. No Christian perfectly expresses faith, hope and love. At times we despair in the almost-absence of these evidences. But God will fan into eternal flame the smallest sparks of His saving grace in our lives. We are not saved by our faith, hope and love. But we seek to encourage such concrete expressions, that the world might be convinced of God, so much so that they “ “falling on their faces, will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” “ (1Corinthians 14:25 ESV, edited)