Friday, July 9, 2010

The Present Life and the Things in It

I can't help but wonder if some of today's readings were directed toward the monks of Calvin's day.  The whole point he makes is that in life we can allow ourselves to enjoy some of the goodness and beauty of this world as long as we do not allow it to distract us from God.  He calls this the "right use of earthly benefits."  Sure, we could technically live off of bread and water for our entire lives, but is God really making that demand of us or would that be something imposed by human thought?  Of course the flip-side of this is just as dangerous.  We should not give in to every indulgence in this life with no restraint on our consciences at all.

Calvin writes that "the use of God's gifts is not wrongly directed when it is referred to that end to which the Author himself created and destined them for us, since he created them for our good, not for our ruin."  We should enjoy a good meal.  Not only will it satisfy our hunger, but is will also provide "delight and good cheer."  The beauty of nature is ours to enjoy, not to ignore.  Calvin points out Psalm 104:15, God gave  " that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine..." God has given gifts to us that are beyond the basic needs for living.  If God gave us these things out of His kindness, we should not dismiss them saying that these things are not necessary to sustain life.

We should be aware that lust and overindulgence turn our hearts from God.  We may enjoy some of the good things in this world, but in moderation and with our hearts still focused on Him.  Food and wine we may enjoy, but gluttony and drunkenness are absolutely to be avoided.  Wearing more than a potato sack is perfectly acceptable, but we should not be so focused on the finest clothing that we forget about God.  Any sort of ostentation must be avoided since it distracts us and those around us from God and His Kingdom.

Calvin gives several "rules" for the present life and the things in this world.  The first is that "those who use this world should be so affected as if they did not use it."  That is a great way to look at it.  Yes, we should enjoy what we have, but we must keep things in the right perspective.  The next rule is "they should know how to bear poverty peaceably and patiently, as well as to bear abundance moderately."  Paul spoke of being content in life, no matter what.  This is exactly what Calvin is sharing here but in his own words.  Calvin quoted someone that he referred to as "Cato," who I believe may have been Cato the Elder, a Roman statesman of the 2nd-3rd century BC.  He wrote, "'There is great care about dress, but great carelessness about virtue.' To us the old proverb: those who are much occupied with the care of the body are for the most part careless about their own souls."  We should avoid excessive indulgences and licentiousness. 

Another "rule" which is really just a restatement and clarification of the second rule above (in fact he also calls this on the second rule), "they who have narrow and slender resources should know how to go without things patiently, lest they be troubled by an immoderate desire for them."  This gets back to the tenth commandments about not coveting anything.  Calvin illustrates how to spot this in ourselves and others.  He writes, "he who is ashamed of mean clothing will boast of costly clothing; he who, not content with a slender meal, is troubled by the desire for a more elegant one, will also intemperately abuse those elegances if they fall to his lot."  Calvin also writes about a third rule which is that God has given us these gifts out of His kindness toward us and for our benefit, but an account of these gifts will be made by us to God in the end.

Finally, Calvin touches on God's calling in our lives.  "The Lord bids each one of us in all life's actions to look to his calling."  He has a plan for each one of us.  He knows our strengths and weaknesses even better than we know ourselves.  We should look to God's direction for our lives.  Our duties in life are our callings, not just our careers.  God has them for all of His people.  Not only should we listen for God's calling as to what we should do, but also what should be left up to others to do.  Calvin uses an example of the removal of a tyrant from power.  This is a good thing, however if an individual private citizen attempts to do this it goes against God's calling for him.  This should be left up to public people in the political arena to handle.  Just because it is a good thing to do does not mean it is good for us to do if God has not called us for it.  And it does not matter how small a calling is: if we perform our calling according to God's will for us, it is very precious in His sight.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.11.1-3.11.6

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