Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 29 Calvin and Unemployment

January 29

Calvin and Unemployment
Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. 5 He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son. (Proverbs 10:4,5)
Acts 17:21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Those who are generous to the poor lends to the Lord. Prov. 19:17
“Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat” II Thess. 3:10
Calvin: “A monk not laboring with his own hands is no better than a violent man and a robber;” and the
other, “Monks, however assiduous they may be in study, meditation, and prayer, must not live by others.” This boundary, too, they transgressed, when they placed lazy gormandising monks in dens and stews, to gorge themselves on other men’s substance.(I.1.4)
“Vices came of idleness [babbling, and enthusiasm for anything new]; the philiosophers [of Athens] spent whole days arguing, and were too focused on anything new; There were no humble merchants there who would set things in order in the state of Greece. Luke indicates (and this is confirmed by both ancient Greek and Latin writers) that the people of Athens did not take life seriously, but were generally covetous and opposing others. In the end they brought all Greece to utter ruin. (Commentary on Acts 17:21)
[Calvin wrote about helping those who were unworthy of being helped]: “Furthermore, not to grow weary in well-doing [Gal. 6:9], which otherwise must happen immediately. We ought to add that other idea which the apostle mentions: “Love is patient…and is not irritable” [I Cor. 13:4-5]. The Lord commands all men without exception “to do good” [Heb. 13:16]. Yet the great part of them are most unwr=orthy if they be judged by their own merit. But here Scripture helps in the best way when it teaches that we are not to consider that people merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all people, to which we owe all honor and love.” (III. 7.6)

Calvin knew what it meant to be unemployed. He lived on a thread most of his life. Remember that he ran for his life from France in 1532 to Basel. Calvin wrote “Psychopannychea” and “The Institutes” during this period of unemployment. No doubt he had motivation to write (as he was in exile for his faith), but it is also important to remember he had time to write, and writing became his living. McGrath, in his biography of Calvin says that Calvin’s sense of call was not a matter of his pride, but perhaps a matter of his belief that “God calls the unrighteous, the outcasts and the downcasts, those who are foolish and weak in the eyes of the world. To be called by God is almost a mark of total failure by human standards.” (McGrath p. 71). On May 4, 1534 Calvin resigned his chaplaincy of La Gesine which meant he broke with the Roman Catholic church and he also had no means to support himself. It could be assumed that he lived off of his savings from his chaplaincy while a student, and from his inheritance (his father died in 1531, Calvin went back to France to help settle his family affairs leaving again in July 1536).
The Bible and Calvin encourage us to work. But what if there is no work to be found? Calvin held up the need to creatively find new work. He set this example when he wrote his books to support himself (changing jobs from a chaplain, to student, to lawyer, to preacher). Certainly God used his unemployment in a powerful way.
Calvin was also a strong believer in providence and God’s calling us to certain labors (vocation). History and economies are in His control. There is no need to panic or worry, but instead a humble trust in God is important. In fact, such a trust is a witness to the outside world. This does not mean that we do nothing. On the contrary God calls us to do all that we can to glorify Him. The work we do is ultimately a calling of God to each one of us. Therefore we should pray that God would lead us into the correct vocation.
Yet Calvin also believed in helping those who were unemployed. He certainly helped the exiles who took refuge in Geneva.
Unemployment numbers have come out about our recession. Caterpillar laid off 20,000; Microsoft 5,000; Sprint 8,000; Home Depot 7,000; GM 2,000. South Carolina lost 54,100 jobs in the past year with unemployment jumping to 9.5% How does the church respond? How do the people of God respond? There is a need to be good stewards, yet also be gracious- knowing that none of us are truly worthy of anything we have. How do we as individuals and families respond? Maybe inviting someone over to eat who lost their jobs. Maybe we should respond with grace and kindness, not just looking to our own interests.

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