The Knowledge of God – Janaury week 2
(my blog subtitles are bold, quotes of Calvin in italics, applications are mine)
I think there is little more embarrassing mistakes then when I have made an appointment with someone then have stood them up. Just didn’t show up. Sure I might have had a good reason, like a legit emergency or a busy week of meetings where I let one slip through the cracks of my schedule. In the times I have done this, it doesn’t matter, every excuse, even the legit ones, seem lame or insincere. Close on the heals of this embarrassment is when meeting someone I should know but have completely blanked on who or how or what I know about them. It is usually followed by me awkwardly asking them, “We met before, right? Would you remind me of your name, please? Please forgive me?”
What if this kind of un-awareness is the state of the entire human race as it relates to God? John Calvin continues the truth of why and how we should know God but sadly are embarrassingly lacking.
God showed up
“Because God desires that the chief end of the blessed life should be to know his name, he reveals himself clearly to everyone, so that he should not seem to want to deny some men entry into happiness.”
The countless proofs of the creation we both are and live in are a witness to us. A witness to the qualities of the God who creates. Yet, many of humanities greatest heroes or philosophical minds have tried to make the un-god-ing of God by building their reasoning around high intellectual arguments. Even those who have been placed in religious authority have often sought to wrestle creations authority from the Creator, the very knowing of God, by placing themselves in authority over God. Calvin quips , “ where then does that leave the rest of us, given that the leaders, whose task it is to enlighten the rest of us, have gone so badly wrong”
This could be a sad, sad state for humanity except for the obvious hope we have, God has not hidden Himself. God shows up.
“They are visible even to the dullest and most ignorant, so that the eye, once opened, is constrained to witness these things.”
“I have never considered that there might be a God”- said no one ever.
Here in the remainder of chapter one of Calvin’s Institutes, The Knowledge of God, we are shown how:
God can be seen
God has revealed himself in various works of providence. Common grace poured out on all of humanity demonstrates God’s benevolence but His specific guidance and judgements on evil throughout humanity’s history reveals his righteousness. At the same time God’s long-suffering, leaving sin unpunished for the present time in order to bring about repentance, is a means of His pursuit of humanity. Revealing His mercy, “until their obstinacy yields to his benevolence!”
Here in is revealed to the watching world, the might and wisdom of the God who is able to crush and destroy the “cruelty of the wicked, which humanly speaking seemed unassailable.” In such a way that those who were made low and broken are raised up, helped, find hope, are restored and the defenceless triumph. Do you see the hope here? The need for both true justice and restorative hope lies in the heart of all of us. But who can complete it? Who is able to know where, when and how justice can be meted out justly? Who is able to bring a restorative fullness to the deeply affected hurt and broken?
Take note. Look up. This is the ability of a the righteous, almighty, full of wisdom and mercy God!
God has been made accessible
All of this revealing of God makes Him accessible to our hearts.
“For God is made known to us in his works so that, when we feel their force within us and receive their benefits, such knowledge should touch us more keenly than if we conceived of God as some airy being of whom we had no real experience.”
“For we perceive that the signs which God gives both of his goodness and severity are partial and only half complete: they are samples, as it were, of what will be fully and finally revealed.”
It is the revealing of God that makes him accessible, able to be known. He can be known in His quality and character which has a direct effect on the heart of those who will know Him. Entrusting yourself to Him includes seeing these specific works of grace, both His righteous judgement and His incredible mercy at work not simply in our world but in our very lives.
God is affirmed
Sadly though, man remains blind to the message and authority of God’s works. Although we have these powerful proofs set before us in daily graces and historical righteousness their light remains dull to our unseeing spiritual eyes. Even here God does not leave us in our blindness, His Word comes as “a necessary addition to his works”.
“so too He provides a surer remedy to aid the weakness of those to whom He chooses to disclose Himself in salvation. For in order to instruct them He uses more than mute creatures: He opens His holy lips, not just to declare that they should worship some kind of god, but to reveal Himself as the God who must be worshipped. Not only does He teach them to acknowledge one God, He also presents Himself to them as the one beyond whom they must not go.”
If it is true, as I heard John Piper say once, “It is not simply a slogan or a sentence that changes us but whole paragraphs” this is one worth soaking in regarding the weight of God’s Holy Word.
Scripture Convinces us of God
The truth of God is made accessible through Scripture. Scripture is not determined as the authoritative way of knowing God only to the degree that the Church has decreed it. That would mean that the church, Catholic or otherwise, would stand in authority, as the authority, over the authority of the Word of God. Calvin makes an argument for why this cannot be true. Scripture is authenticated by Holy Spirit who is the inner witness to its authority and by which all secondary proofs of its authority are made known.
Secondary proofs of authority are simply that, secondary. Calvin places the authority or affirmation of the church in this secondary proof and only to the degree that the Church submits itself first of all to the truth of scriptures. Secondary proofs are made true to the degree that they both come out of God’s Word and are affirmed by Holy Spirit’s witness in God’s Word.
What Calvin highlights as secondary proofs of the authority of God’s Word in the revealing of the person of God are:
- wisdom and truth
“Further encouragement is given us when we reflect that it is the splendour of its content rather than the elegance of its words which fills us with such wonder. It was indeed no accident of providence that God handed down to us the lofty secrets of his heavenly kingdom in mean, unvarnished words. Otherwise, had they been filled and enriched by the arts of eloquence, the wicked would have sneered that that was where scriptures’s entire power lay…. that is why the apostle rightly argues that the faith of the Corinthians ‘rested not on human wisdom, but on the power of God’, since his preaching among them ‘had not been in persuasive words of mans’ wisdom, but was approved by the manifestations of the Spirit and of power’ (I Cor. 2:4-5) Truth is exempt from all doubt: it needs no other helps, but is perfectly sufficient to sustain itself.”
– here in lies the proof of scriptures authority to the common man’s heart. Its truths can be grasped, applied and by which we are transformed. Scripture is profoundly simple in its transforming message of God’s person and redemptive purposes.
- the history of the church
“Moreover the consent of the church is not without importance. It is no small thing that, although many centuries have passed since the Scriptures were made known, there has been continuing agreement regarding the obedience which is owed them.”
“They [believers] did not hesitate to die bravely and even cheerfully for the truth they had received. And how shall we not receive it with sure and invincible conviction, since it comes to us with such a guarantee and endorsement?… their faith is not a state of frenzy or wild passion but moved by zeal for God which was both sober and measured, steadfast and sure.”
– the church convinced to the point of joyful death is a strong witness to the authority and authenticity of God’s revealing in scriptures. There are many causes that man might sacrifice resources and time to serve. There are a few religious beliefs that men and women will even attack with such zeal as to do evil to others under the lie that they are guaranteed eternal bliss by such evil. There are fewer still those ideas that men and women would go willingly, silently, and joyfully praying for their enemies forgiveness, as they are tortured and put to death. The church has been convinced by the plain beauty of scripture that their lives are not their own. Their story is not THE story of history. They are instruments to be used up for the great glory of God
“Thus, the knowledge of God, presented to us in Scripture, has the same end in view as that which is found in all created things. It should first promote us to fear God, and then to trust in him, so that we may serve and honour him by innocence of life, by unfeigned obedience and by utter reliance on his goodness.”
Next week: Chapter 2 Prt 1 The Knowledge of Man and Free Will
Thanks for reading;