Monday, March 1, 2010

Knowledge of ourselves

Remember way back at the beginning of book 1 Calvin told us that without knowledge of ourselves there is no knowledge of God and without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of ourselves?  The entire first book was about the knowledge of God the Creator.  He opens book 2 with a discussion about ourselves.

Philosophers of Calvin's day and self-help gurus of the 21st century also tell us to know ourselves.  How are they different from Calvin?  Just look at the titles of some of the books in the self-help section at your bookstore.  Many indicate that there is good within us and these books will help us find and explore this innate good for our own benefit.  Calvin on the other hand, looks at knowledge of ourselves in this way, "But knowledge of ourselves lies first in considering what we were given at creation and how generously God continues his favor toward us, in order to know how great our natural excellence would be if only it had remained unblemished; yet at the same time to bear in mind that there is in us nothing of our own, but that we hold on sufferance whatever God has bestowed upon us.  Hence we are ever dependent on him.  Secondly, to call to mind our miserable condition after Adam's fall; the awareness of which when all our boasting and self-assurance are laid low, should truly humble and overwhelm us with shame."  In a nutshell:  We were created perfectly and we messed it up.  We are totally dependent on God.  We should be full of shame when we consider what God have us and how we have responded with sin.

Not only have we messed up what God graciously gave us, we are so full of pride as to think that we are "abundantly sufficient of [ourselves] to lead a good and blessed life."  First of all, we are not self-sufficient at all.  We must rely on God for everything including creation, life, and grace.  Without God, we have no good in us no matter what the philosophers and self-help gurus tell us.  Plus, all blessings come from God, not ourselves.

If we examine ourselves, we may think that we can by ourselves correct the sin within us.  We might think we can purify ourselves and make ourselves right before God.  But we cannot.  If we examine ourselves according to God's law using the standard of divine judgment, we will become dejected and have no desire to live rightly.  Therefore, we must look at how God originally created us and focus on our desire to be in the kingdom of God.

It was not until I read Calvin did I know about his thought on what the first sin was.  Growing up I was taught that the first sin was the disobedience of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.  Later, I was taught that the first sin was pride.  Calvin writes, "Indeed Augustine speaks rightly when he declares that pride was the beginning of all evils.  For if ambition had not raised man higher than was meet and right, he could have remained in his original state."  Calvin confirms that Adam was the representative of us all when he writes, "This Paul also confirms, teaching that all were lost through the disobedience of one man. [Rom. 5:19.]"  Calvin goes on to explain that it was not just pride which brought us to our current state.  Adam would not have accepted the lies being told by Satan if he had believed God's Word.  If we do not focus on the truth that God gives us, "his majesty will not dwell among us, nor his worship remain perfect.  Unfaithfulness, then, was the root of the Fall."

The next few days we will continue reading about the Fall and original sin.  Calvin's intent will also be for us to examine ourselves because without knowing ourselves we cannot know God. 

Tomorrow's reading: 2.1.5-2.1.7

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