Monday, June 15, 2009

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord

In commemoration of John Calvin's 500th birthday (which coincidently falls on July 10, yours truly's birthday), I've been reading his great systematic theology Institutes of the Christian Religion. Fortunately, Princeton has been given permission to offer daily readings from the Battles-McNeill translation, which is much better than the 19th-century Beveridge translation. Love Calvin or hate him, he's easily the greatest theologian in the history of Protestantism, so one would do well to become acquainted with his thought.

One of the aspects of Calvin's thought that has irked me is his thoroughgoing focus on God's sovereignty and Providence in governing the universe. Calvin seems to think that God's instrumentality (direct or indirect) is present in all that happens, whether for good or ill. This is so pronounced in the Institutes that it approaches a strict determinism. Argue with this if you want. I most certainly have, and something indeed still seems wrong with this kind of approach, but in this season in my life in which things have not quite worked out for me as I had planned in regard to seminary and my move to St. Louis, Calvin's confidence that God is radically in control begins to sound pretty good to me. I take comfort and hope in this from today's reading:

If things do not go according to our wish and hope, we will still be restrained from impatience and loathing of our condition, whatever it may be. For we shall know that this is to murmur against God, by whose will riches and poverty, contempt and honor, are dispensed. To sum up, he who rests solely upon the blessing of God, as it has been here expressed, will neither strive with evil arts after those things which men customarily madly seek after, which he realizes will not profit him, nor will he, if things go well, give credit to himself or even to his diligence, or industry, or fortune. Rather, he will give God the credit as its Author. But if, while other men's affairs flourish, he makes but slight advancement, or even slips back, he will still bear his low estate with greater equanimity and moderation of mind than some profane person would bear a moderate success which merely does not correspond with his wish. For he indeed possesses a solace in which he may repose more peacefully than in the highest degree of wealth or power. Since this leads to his salvation, he considers that his affairs are ordained by the Lord. 'We see that David was so minded; while he follows God and gives himself over to his leading, he attests that he is like a child weaned from his mother's breast, and that he does not occupy himself with things too deep and wonderful for him.

1 comment:

Jason said...

You should take Dr. Calhoun's Institutes class when you get to CTS; with Dr. Calhoun's interpretive comments, you won't feel that Calvin is excessively decretal at all.