Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Calvin's Institutes 1.4.1 - 1.5.1

Having established that all people has a sense that there is a God, Calvin in chapter IV moves on to show how even with that sense of God, human beings twist, corrupt or suppress it.

Calvin started by pointing out how very few people act upon this sense of God in a correct manner, much less bear fruit from it. Instead of looking higher than themselves, people are inclined instead to evaluate God by their criteria. They go off into self produced speculation and in doing so do you see God as he offers himself to them. Instead they, "imagine him as they have fashioned him in their own presumption."

Reading this, it almost sounds like today. I cannot count the number of people who have said to me, "My God is not like that, he . . ." when a certain teaching of the Bible about God comes up. It seems the vast majority of people today in response to this religious sense in them, are experts in making their own God. We live in a time that could be characterized with the slightly changed name of a certain store, as a "Build a god workshop."

However, Calvin rightly points out that if one's god is a god of their own imagination no matter how much they seek to serve him thinking they are offering these things to the one and only God, all that they do is in no way acceptable or even given to God. Instead it is given to, "a figment and a dream of their own hearts." Pointing to Romans 1:21-22 Calvin pointed out that they thought they were wise, but became fooling and worshiped as God that which was not God.

But along with those who form their own god, there are those who seek to get rid of God. They are people who are seen, "as flatly denying God's existence; not that they deprive him of his being, but because, in despoiling him of his judgment and providence they shut him up idle in heaven" Calvin explains this further as something that is seen in how a person lives as much as it may be seen in what they say they believe, or don't as the case may be. So we read, "whoever heedlessly indulges himself, his fear of heavenly judgment extinguished, denies that their is a God." (emphasis mine)

Although people today seem much more likely to simply say there is no God, at the same time this reminded me how vital it is to realize that while one can profess the existence of God with one's mouth, at the same time one can deny him by one's actions as if God does not matter in any way.

Chapter IV continues with this wonderful statement which again seems to so well sum up many people today, "For they think that any zeal for religion, however preposterous, is sufficient. But they do not realize that true religion ought to be conformed to God's will as a universal rule; that God ever remains like himself, and is not a specter of phantasm to be transformed according to anyone's whim." It does not seem like Calvin would be much for those who make up their own religious observances.

The last thing Calvin speaks to concerning how that religious sense is corrupted is in the case of those who, "never consider God at all unless compelled to; and they do not come nigh until they are dragged there despite their resistance. And not even then are they impressed with the voluntary fear that arises out of reverence for the divine majesty, but merely with a slavish, forced fear, which God's judgment exhorts them to." These are people who admit to their being a God, but would prefer to keep him far away, because all this sense of God stirs up in them is dread of judgment. It would seem these are those who go to church to assuage their conscience or who participate in various rituals thing those observances will win God's favor.

The conclusion of chapter IV is that even considering all this, that sense of God still remains and cannot be removed. Instead, even when suppressed, it will rear its head in one way or another.

In chapter V Calvin turns to show how the knowledge of God is see in both the creation of the universe and how God providentially governs it.

His first point is that the fashioning and sustaining hand of God is so evident in the universe, that no one is without excuse. This is drawn from many places in the scriptures all of which testify to the fact that, "upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance."


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