Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January 6- Calvin and the poor

January 6Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31 TNIV)The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. (Mt. 26:11)

Calvin had an uncanny idea of why there are poor in the world.“Why therefore does God permit there to be poor ones here on earth except that he wishes to give us an occasion for doing good? Thus let us not attribute it to fortune when we see one person is rich and another poor, but let us recognize that God disposes it thus and that it is not without cause. It is true that we cannot always see why God has enriched one and has left another in his poverty. We do not have the discretion necessary for that. And thus God wishes that we lower our eyes often in order to honor him, because he governs men by his will and according to his counsel, which is incomprehensible to us…God distributes unequally the decaying goods of this world in order to probe the courage of men; it is a test which he makes.” CR 31:17
Why are some rich and some poor? It is a simple question that has a super-complex answer. Calvin knew we didn’t understand fully why. He did know that it was not just blind chance. He also knew that there was God’s purpose at work- which in itself is complex. One of the purposes is that the rich might help the needy and give glory to God. Perhaps another is that when they are helped the poor give thanks to God.
To say that some are rich and others are poor by fortune means nothing. Fortune is nothing but a descriptive term. In the movie “The Dark Knight” Two Face saw evil win and so he decided (insanely) that the only thing that counts in life is luck and fairness. He wanted fairness in the world- and his idea of fairness was for people to sympathize with him and to flip a coin as to whether they lived or died. While we have a sense that things should be fair, we also know that things are not fair in this life. Sometimes unfairness is caused by human evil (greed, corruption), and sometimes it is just the way we are born. But Calvin would deny that God could still be at work despite the inequalities of life. Our response to inequalities is wise Christian charity.
Calvin said, “The proud indeed never think of this, that the poor, whom they afflict and despise are of such estimation in the sight of God that he feels himself insulted and injured in their persons…But God bestows on his servants the inestimable reward of taking their cause into his own hand.” (CR 37:329)
“Nevertheless, it is foolish prodigality to scatter at random what the Lord has given one. Indiscriminate charity creates beggars , who are a menace to society.” Calvin did not consider prosperity or poverty to be of primary importance in life. The one matter of primary significance is fellowship with God.” (Leith JCDofCL p. 195).

So… today I’m going to try to do some help with the poor. I will seek them out, and seek to help them as a good steward.

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