Tuesday, April 28, 2009

4/28- Calvin and the Plague

(1411 image of the plague found in a Bible)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death and Hell followed close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague…The rest of the people who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or thefts. (Rev. 6:7,8; 9:20,21

Calvin: "Whenever there is a question about choosing a minister, whenever, finally, any difficult matter of great importance is to be discussed, or again when there appear the judgments of the Lord’s anger (as pestilence, war, and famine)—this is a holy ordinance and one salutary for all ages, that pastors urge the people
to public fasting and extraordinary prayers (IV.12.14) Again, if either pestilence, or famine, or war begins to rage, or if any disaster seems to threaten any district and people—then also it is the duty of the pastors to urge the church to fasting, in order that by supplication the Lord’s wrath may be averted. For where he causes danger to appear he warns that he is ready." (IV. 12.17)

Calvin faced the plague throughout his life. His pious mother died when he was three (1512), probably of the plague (Halsema p.12). In 1523 the plague hit his hometown of Noyon again and Calvin left to study in Paris in part to escape the plague (he never came back). When Calvin was in exile in Strasburg he visited some of his parishioners who had the plague. Keep in mind the plague was seen as very contagious, but Calvin visited the afflicted anyway. Calvin instituted a hospital in Geneva just for people who had the plague, and also a separate hospital just for visitors who got sick- probably to keep the plague in isolation (Ecclesiastical Ordinances 4th order). His fellow reformer, Zwingli, had almost died of the plague in Zurich Switzerland, but miraculously recovered. Geneva was hit with the plague for two years while Calvin was there(1543-1545). Some of Calvin’s minister friends (eg. Pierre Blanchet) died of the plague while ministering to the sick. Calvin offered his services as a chaplain to those in the plague hospital, but the city refused his offer. Calvin was very conscious of trying to contain the plague. He also several times had asked for special prayer and fasting to occur if the plague broke out. For Calvin, God’s providential hand was at work in any disaster. God maybe trying to “warn” us to follow Him. For Calvin the most important thing was not this life- with its crosses and sin, but the next life. He saw disasters (including medical disasters) as means to keep us from falling away from faith, and drawing closer to God in prayer. He did not believe that plagues only killed evil people (his mother was certainly regarded by him as very godly-yet she died and so did his friend Blanchet). Yet, he did not see sickness or disaster simply as meaningless events. Nor did he see God as uncaring in the midst of the sickness or disaster. Sickness was another cross to bear that drew us closer to God and heaven. Calvin was sick most of his life, and died a slow ten year death from typhoid and lung problems. Yet he faced his problems and sickness with real courage and a sense of purpose.
Today, we are afflicted too. There is real panic in our world with this swine flu outbreak. People in Thailand are making others walk through thermal imaging screens at airports in case they have a fever. Millions are wearing masks. In America schools are shutting down, and the newspeople are talking about this almost non-stop. We also are facing some of the other plagues talked about in Revelation- War (Afghanistan), Economic Crisis (and hunger- 840 million according to the UN). The real question is how do we respond to it. The typical response by Americans today is that the government or president should do something about it. Americans today unlike Americans in the past or most peoples of the world today, have a total disconnect between their spirituality and the world around them. FDR, Truman, Kennedy called for the nation to fast and pray. Reagan called for a National Day of Prayer (First Thursday of each May- 5/7). I wonder if Obama will call the nation to pray on May 7? Even in the last ten years, we have become so secularized that we do not see God as playing a role or even able to help us in our time of need. We have placed our trust in medicine, government, technology and know-how. Yet there remains a mystery of life, and parts of life beyond our control. The Bible speaks of a time at the end of history when people refuse to repent or see God's hand in disaster (Rev. 9:20,21). I hope we are not there. Calvin would call us to pray and also to examine our lives for sin- and repent of our sins. I don’t think that is a bad idea at all!

Prayer: Sovereign Lord, we call to you to have mercy upon us and our nation. Use technology, government, medicine, and above all your Holy Spirit to heal us, help us, and make us whole. Above all, draw us back to yourself. Amen.

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