Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.2.2 - 1.3.3

This was a very interesting read for me, but for some reason I found it a difficult read. Not that it was difficult to understand, but rather my mind kept wandering. That is something it has been doing often today so it was no surprise to me. I ended up reading and re-reading sentences and paragraphs to get the sense of what Calvin had written.

This reading continues the discussion of chapter 2 dealing with "What it is to know God, and to what purpose the knowledge of him tends."

The first thing that is pointed out in this text is that asking the question, "What is God?" is not a particularly useful place to start. This makes sense as it leads to an abundance of speculation and abstract constructions that miss the really important point of knowing, as Calvin puts it, "of what sort he is and what is consistent with his nature." That is, that God is the one who created all things including human beings, and we owe our whole life to him. More than that, to realize that God is the source of all good.

To understand God in this way only comes through what Calvin calls the pious mind. (I'm not sure I like the way I stated that, but it will work for the moment) Sadly, the word, "pious", has taken on the negative connotation of self righteousness. That was not what was in Calvin's mind here. The marks or aspect of the pious mind, probably what we would call the Spiritual mind, are presented as the following:

1) It does not seek to produce a God of its own imagining, but instead seeks to dwell upon the one and only true God.

2) It does not seek to attribute whatever it dreams up to God, but is, "content to hold him to be as he manifests himself."

3) It strives to not wander from the will of God.

4) It understands it is right to "observe his authority in all things, reverence his majesty, take care to advance his glory, and obey his commandments."

5) It realizes that God is the righteous judge and holds that in view so as not to provoke the anger of God for both punishment of the wicked and eternal life of the righteous are part of the glory of God.

6) It, "restrains itself from sinning, not only out of dread of punishment alone; but because it loves and reveres God as Father, it worships and adores him as Lord"; or as Calvin wrote, "Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending him alone."

With this Calvin moved on to defend the truth that all people have a sense or awareness of their being a God. This has been implanted by God in all people. Even idolatry is proof of this as humans, in spite of our pride, have a built in drive to bow themselves down before something.

Interestingly Calvin raises a defence against the claim that religion was a creation of men to control others all the better. He does not deny that some men have done this, but he points out the only way that such an approach could work is if this sense of the divine was already found in humankind. Further, he points out that even though who more vociferously deny the existence of God, are the ones most troubled because of this sense of the divine so that the "boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf." In fact Calvin maintains that godlessness is impossible writing, "Indeed, the perversity of the impious, who though they struggle furiously are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God, is abundant testimony that this conviction, namely, that this is some God, is naturally inborn in all, and is fixed deep within, as it were, in the very marrow."


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