Thursday, January 15, 2009

0 The Institutes: Men Missing the Point and Missing God

Calvin has spent the better part of the first five chapters of the Institutes addressing the revelation of God and how men react to that revelation, and he continues in sections 10-12 to reiterate the purpose of God's revealing Himself to men, and the errors men are subject to when that revelation is ignored or suppressed. It's interesting to consider one of the points made in this section in light of what passes for "thoughtful contemplation" today.

We are surrounded at times by exhortations from "wellness advisers" to get outside and enjoy the outdoors for the health of it - to be well. "Take a look at the beauty of the forest and the hills, and walk in it and take it in," we are told as part of our "wellness" training. Indeed - this is good advice, so long as it doesn't stop at an appreciation for beauty.

Calvin notes the following, along these lines:
But although the Lord represents both himself and his everlasting Kingdom in the mirror of his works with very great clarity, such is our stupidity that we grow increasingly dull toward so manifest testimonies, and they flow away without profiting us. For with regard to the most beautiful structure and order of the universe, how many of us are there who, when we lift up our eyes to heaven or cast them about through the various regions of earth, recall our minds to a remembrance of the Creator, and do not rather, disregarding their Author, sit idly in contemplation of his works? (p. 63, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
Many are satisfied, it seems, to look at a beautiful mountain vista, and remark about how beautiful it is - but such a statement, disconnected from the recognition and praise of its Creator, is void of significance. God has created a stunning display of His creative power in the world, and indeed the universe around us. Yet, if He is missed in it all, to what real end is that getting out the door and enjoying everything? Wellness educators tell people of all spiritual walks that their experience of enjoyment of beauty is a spiritual thing - with the implicit and sometimes explicit statement appended that everyone's spiritual experience in it, whether connected with God, Allah, Vishnu, or no god at all, is equivalent, and equally promoting of "wellness".

When one's thoughts turn from the revelation God has given to all in the works of nature, to his own contemplations of things above himself, it is not surprising that myriad errors come forth from such contemplations. With no mooring, men will take that innate drive to seek something higher and turn it into the false worship of Allah, or Vishnu, or something else. There is nothing new under the sun; what occurs today has already been. Calvin remarks on the diversity of opinions and gods that have arisen from men's contemplations -
For each man's mind is like a labyrinth, so that it is no wonder that individual nations were drawn aside into various falsehoods; and not only this- but individual men, almost, had their own gods. For as rashness and superficiality are joined to ignorance and darkness, scarcely a single person has ever been found who did not fashion for himself an idol or specter in place of God. Surely, just as waters boil up from a vast, full spring, so does an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind, while each one, in wandering about with too much license, wrongly invents this or that about God himself. However, it is not necessary here to draw up a list of the superstitions with which the world has been entangled, because there would be no end to it, and so without a word of them it is sufficiently clear from so many corruptions how horrible is the blindness of the human mind. (p. 64-65, Institutes of the Christian Religion)
Calvin is building up to a crescendo that will arrive with chapters 6 and 7 of book I - that Scripture alone is our guide, and the Holy Spirit a necessary illuminator. Scripture can tell us things about God that Creation fails to tell us - and without the Holy Spirit indwelling us and illuminating the Scripture text, we will, because of our fallen nature, misread, misapply and misunderstand what it teaches about God.



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