Tuesday, May 12, 2009

5/12- God's Providential Control

(Cyrus and Daniel Before Bel the Idol- Rembrandt 1633)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

5/12- Calvin and God’s Providential Control

1 "This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, 6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. 8 "You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the LORD, have created it. 9 "Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'The potter has no hands'? 10 Woe to those who say to their father, 'What have you begotten?' or to their mother, 'What have you brought to birth?' 11 "This is what the LORD says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? 12 It is I who made the earth and created human beings on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. 13 I will raise up Cyrus [b] in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty." (Isaiah 45:1,5-13)

Calvin: At the outset, then, let my readers grasp that providence means not that by which God idly observes from heaven what takes place on earth, but that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events…
Many babble too ignorantly of bare foreknowledge. Not so crass is the error of those who attribute a governance to God, but of a confused and mixed sort, as I have said, namely, one that by a general
motion revolves and drives the system of the universe, with its several parts, but which does not specifically direct the action of individual creatures. Yet this error, also, is not tolerable; for by this providence
which they call universal, they teach that nothing hinders all creatures from being contingently moved, or man from turning himself hither and thither by the free choice of his will. And they so apportion things
between God and man that God by His power inspires in man a movement by which he can act in accordance with the nature implanted in him, but He regulates His own actions by the plan of His will. Briefly, they mean that the universe, men’s affairs, and men themselves are governed by God’s might but not by His determination. I say nothing of the Epicureans (a pestilence that has always filled the world) who imagine that God is idle and indolent; and others just as foolish, who of old fancied that God so ruled above the middle region of the air that he left the lower regions to fortune. As if the dumb creatures themselves do not sufficiently cry out against such patent madness! (I.16.3)

Providence for Calvin is not merely foreknowledge. There is a difference between governing the world and knowing all about it. Calvin definitely believed in God’s foreknowledge, but the god’s knowledge is different from God’s care. God achieve His ends in the world not just by knowing about it, but by directing, molding, shaping, and caring for the world. The believer needs to know that God not just knows about us, but cares about us. Jesus came to earth to show us that God not only knows we exist, but He cares about our plight and is doing something about it.
Providence is also more than God setting things in motion and leaving. God is not just the first cause, but the ruling cause. To set the winds, waves, stars in motion and to direct our affairs by such things, is cold and merciless. Calvin used the illustration of when we are born a mother’s breast is available for us. Our existence is contingent on someone beyond our control. It is not that no one is in charge (as the atheist would say); nor is it that the cold forces of nature are in charge (as the deist, or the person depending on luck would say). For Calvin, we have a loving Father who cares for us, and loves us in charge.
I believe there was a point where we felt we didn’t need God. We could pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Many alienated themselves from God because they are made about their circumstances- not having a kind of heaven on earth. Many alienated themselves from God because of their own sin, and they believe (falsely) it is easier to stay in their sin than to confess their guilt to God. Many have felt they are self-made, and have brought themselves up by their own bootstraps, and leave no room for God’s help or God’s hand (perhaps now the bootstraps have broken?). They do not recognize the curse of God (the first step of not recognizing God’s power) nor the blessings of God. So eventually they do not recognize God at all. In a troubled world of war, tremendous job loss, tightening credit, there are so many who will not call out to God because they have forgotten his providential hand, and his ability to answer prayer. I hope we do not. In Sunday’s The State paper it said that in the past recessions there was a turning back to God, but that in this recession there does not seem to be that. We have disconnected our behavior from God’s action- blessing or cursing. Calvin would point out that we will miss being able to trust in God and call out to Him- for we will think we are alone in a cold, harsh universe.

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