Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A very rough guide to Calvin's theology: Knowing God

Calvin opens the Institutes with this statement, 'Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.' For Calvin the whole point in doing theology (although he did not like that term) was to gain wisdom that we might live for the glory of God. God has revealed himself to us in creation. Each human being has a sense that God exists – Romans 1:18ff. In our sin we distort and suppress this sense of God, but its witness cannot be totally eradicated from the human heart. We know enough to be held accountable for our unbelief and idolatry Romans 1:18ff.

But if we are to be saved from sin, we need God to reveal himself to us as our Redeemer. He has done this in Holy Scripture, where God accommodates himself to our capacities that we might know him as our Saviour in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is infinite and we are finite. God is holy and we are sinners. He is way beyond is. Yet in Scripture, God has stooped to reveal himself to us in a way that we can understand. In the Bible, we are not given knowledge what God is in himself, in his divine essence. God’s self-revelation in Scripture shows us what he is to us as our Redeemer. That is why the Bible uses anthropomorphisms such as God’s “right hand” or “the eyes of the Lord”, or his “back parts”. Such langue makes God’s ways understandable to us. We cannot conceive how God as an omniscient Spirit sees all things. But we take great comfort in the fact that “the eye of the Lord is upon the righteous” and that he “holds us in his hands”. Similarly, when God is said to “repent”. He does not really change his mind, but it may seem as if he does. We see a good example of this in the Book of Jonah. God threatens us with terrible judgements. We turn from our sin and seek his mercy in Christ. Then God relents from the threatened judgement. Now, the eternal purposes of the Lord are not subject to change on the basis of human actions. Indeed, our response to him in repentance and faith is a divinely enabled response. But those passages of Scripture that say that “God repented and did not destroy Nineveh” help us to understand very vividly how an eternal and unchangeable God relates to his time-bound creatures.

The Bible gives us divine self-revelation that is suited to our ability to receive it,

"For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to 'lisp' in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express what God is like [in himself] as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness." (Inst I:13:1).

But we are only able to receive Scripture as God’s Word through the witness of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit authenticates the Scriptures to the believer so that the Bible is received as the very Word of God. The Spirit also enables us to understand the essential message of Scripture concerning salvation in Christ.

No comments: