Thursday, July 06, 2006

John Calvin on Suffering

John Calvin: Suffering, Understanding the Love of God Commentary by Joseph Hill (Evangelical Press 2005, 360pp)

Calvin has an unfair reputation of being an aloof, cerebral Theologian. The idea of looking to him for a sympathetic, pastoral treatment of suffering may seem strange to some. However, as Joseph Hill’s selection of his writings shows, the great Reformer was above all else a lucid Bible teacher and loving pastor.

The book is comprised mainly of quotes from Calvin’s commentaries and his Institutes of the Christian Religion. The quotes are given in clear, modern English, interspersed with Hill’s own comments. Calvin’s timeless teaching is applied to our present situation, with references to recent devastating earthquakes, the Tsunami disaster and the AIDS epidemic. Apposite quotations from the likes of Joni Eareckson Tada, Augustine of Hippo and John Donne help to throw light on the problem of suffering. Illustrations of patient endurance are drawn from the life of Calvin himself and other figures as diverse as Nelson Mandela and the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.

The question, “If God is good and all powerful, why do his people suffer?” is given careful consideration. Hill wisely points out that it is more important that God has acted in Christ to justify the ungodly, than that we are able to justify his mysterious ways to men. The compiler draws out Calvin’s deeply Biblical teaching that God ordains the suffering of his people for our good. As we pour out our hearts to the Lord, he purifies us and gives us grace to persevere to the end.

The anthology is well set out with each chapter devoted to a theme such as Living under the Cross and Standing on the Promises. Sub-headings help to guide the reader though the text. This work needs to be read slowly and thoughtfully as meaty chunk after chunk of Calvin's writing is introduced. I'm not really that keen on anthologies. But as the Reformer's teaching on suffering is scattered throughout his Commentaries and the Institutes, Hill has done us a service in making Calvin's reflections on this subject accessible in one volume.

The book can sometimes be a little repetitive and on one occasion two very similar Calvin quotes are given within the same chapter (pages 54 and 72). Philippians 6:12 on page 26 should be 4:12. The endnotes in chapter 6 do not tally with the references in the text, so a Calvin quote is attributed to John Milton (note 10).

Ministers who teach and care for God’s suffering people will find this book helpful. Serious minded believers who wrestle with the problem of suffering will find much profit in this compilation of Calvin’s writings.
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Calvin on Job 8:13-22
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So then, let us learn not to put our trust in this world, or in any of the inferior means below. But let us lean upon God, seeing that he has given us our Lord Jesus Christ, to the end that being grafted into him we may drain such strength and sap from him that, although our life is hidden so that we are even as it were in death, we may not cease to continue still. And we may be maintained in a good and sure state, waiting till this good God has delivered us out of all worldly miseries and out of all the troubles we are obliged to suffer here, until he calls us and brings us into the kingdom of heaven and into the glory which he has purchased by the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. (p. 342)
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A version of this review appeared in the July-August 2006 edition of Protestant Truth

13 comments:

Bro. Bartleby said...

Of course suffering come in all forms and degrees, yet at its essense, suffering is pain, that which alerts us, thereby allowing for remedy. Without pain, without warning, remedy is impossible if not lost.

Steven Carr said...

'The compiler draws out Calvin’s deeply Biblical teaching that God ordains the suffering of his people for our good.'

So suffering is not caused by sin?

Exiled Preacher said...

Hello again Steven,

The world is full of suffering because of sin. But that does not mean that people suffer in proportion to their sin in this life. Good people sometimes suffer horrendously and wicked people seem to live charmed, problem free lives. The Psalmist wrestled with this problem in
Psalm 73


God ordians the suffering of his people in this fallen world for their good. This is not a case of either suffering is caused by sin, or God can use suffering for good. Both propositions are true.

"Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator". 1 Peter 4:19.

Steven Carr said...

'God ordians the suffering of his people in this fallen world for their good.'

A wicked, wicked philosophy....

In the Book of Job, suffering was caused by Satan obeying God.

God simply wanted to save face, show that he was right and Satan was wrong.

Nothing whatever to do with the good of people.

Exiled Preacher said...

Steven,

To quote Cowper's famous hymn God moves in a mysterious way:

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His works in vain
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You will never understand God's Word and ways until you believe in him.

Steven Carr said...

Do you nunderstand why Satan obeys God and respects the limits God places on the evil he can do? (As in the Book of Job)

How do you obtain such an understanding of Satan's mind, without believing in him?

Exiled Preacher said...

Steven,

I do believe in the existence of Satan. According to Paul he is

'the god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God should shine on them.' (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Maybe the Devil would hold you up as a very good specimen of his work?

Steven Carr said...

If people have been blinded, then they must be punished. That is justice , isn't it?


God has ordained that thet suffer by being blinded, for their own good. Isn't that what Calvin would say?


Why does God , in the book of Job, expect Satan to obey him, and respect the limits God places on him?

Exiled Preacher said...

I was talking about spiritual blindness in my previous comments.

God expects Satan to obey him because God is absolutely sovereign. He is able to prescribe the limits of Satan's activity, saying, "Thus far and no further".

Steven Carr said...

'God expects Satan to obey him because God is absolutely sovereign. He is able to prescribe the limits of Satan's activity, saying, "Thus far and no further".'

And, of course, Satan obeys - just read Genesis to see examples.

You still believe people who have been blinded by somebody else should be punished for their blindness?

Exiled Preacher said...

Steven,

Spiritual blindness is part of our condition as sinners. We have chosen and love darkness rather than light. John 3:19 & 20). We are not innocent victims in all this. We have chosen spiritual blindness by rejecting the light of God's Truth.

God, as part of his saving activity, delivers us from the power of darkness and makes his light shine in our hearts. Then we are able to see his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

As John Newton put it in his famous hymn Amazing Grace

I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.


That is the experience of all true Christians.

Steven Carr said...

'Spiritual blindness is part of our condition...'

So all people are spiritually blind...

'According to Paul he is 'the god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God should shine on them.' (2 Corinthians 4:4)

So not all people are spiritually blind.

No wonder it is so hard for unbelievers to see the light, when Christians keep changing their minds about what they believe.

Does Satan blind people, or are people blind already?

Romans 9:18 - Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

How does God choose whose heart to harden? Does he choose a heart which is hard, and then harden it?

Exiled Preacher said...

All people are spiritually blind until God enlightens them and they become Christians.

We are spiritually blind because of our sin and because of the work of Satan. Both statements are true.

What I'd be concerned about if I were you is how to stop being spiritually blind. Then all these Theological issues would become a lot clearer. You need to believe in order to understand.

If you are not interested in believing what is the point in discussing these things with you at this time?