Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Final Resurrection, Part III

Book 3 of the Institutes draws to a close today with this reading. Only one more book to go.

The joy we will experience as the elect is unable to be expressed in words. Calvin calls this joy, "a happiness of whose excellence the minutest part would scarce be told if all were said that the tongues of all men could say." God is love, so when we are no longer in this broken world but in His presence, we can experience this love fully and there is no greater happiness that could be imagined. Nothing beyond God's presence should be sought after, because there is no greater good and happiness. Calvin briefly warns against vain speculation about the afterlife. Suffice it to say, the joy we will experience is beyond our current comprehension. Calvin then addresses the gifts that we will receive from God. We will not all receive the same rewards in heaven. Calvin writes, "just as God, variously distributing his gifts to the saints in this world, beams upon them unequally, so there will not be an equal measure of glory in heaven, where God shall crown his own gifts." For instance, in Matthew 19:28 Christ promises the apostles that they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel. This is a special reward reserved just for them.

We should not concern ourselves with silly questions about the afterlife. Examples he gives are that we should not worry about the gifts reserved for prophets versus the gifts reserved for the apostles. Nor should we worry about whether or not virgins and married women receive equal gifts. Referencing 1 Corinthians 13:12, Calvin writes that we should, "be satisfied with the 'mirror' and its 'dimness' until we see him face to face." He concludes, "For few out of a huge multitude care how they are to go to heaven, but all long to know beforehand what takes place there. Almost all are lazy and loath to do battle, while already picturing to themselves imaginary victories."

Just as the joy we will experience in heaven is beyond our current comprehension, so is the suffering of the reprobate beyond our imagination. The prophets and apostles try to warn their readers of the pain by using imagery of fire and gnashing of teeth. In reality, this suffering goes beyond these images. "As by such detail we should be enabled in some degree to conceive the lot of the wicked, so we ought especially to fix our thoughts upon this: how wretched it is to be cut off from all fellowship with God." There is no worse suffering than to be totally out of the presence of God.

  Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
  Before the mountains were brought forth,
         Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
         Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
  You turn man to destruction,
         And say, “Return, O children of men.”
  For a thousand years in Your sight
         Are like yesterday when it is past,
         And like a watch in the night.
  You carry them away like a flood;
         They are like a sleep.
         In the morning they are like grass which grows up:
  In the morning it flourishes and grows up;
         In the evening it is cut down and withers.
  For we have been consumed by Your anger,
         And by Your wrath we are terrified.
  You have set our iniquities before You,
         Our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.
  For all our days have passed away in Your wrath;
         We finish our years like a sigh.
  The days of our lives are seventy years;
         And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
         Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
         For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
  Who knows the power of Your anger?
         For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath.
  So teach us to number our days,
         That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
  Return, O LORD!
         How long?
         And have compassion on Your servants.
  Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy,
         That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!
  Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us,
         The years in which we have seen evil.
  Let Your work appear to Your servants,
         And Your glory to their children.
  And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us,
         And establish the work of our hands for us;
         Yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90, New King James Version)

Tomorrow's reading: 4.1.1-4.1.4

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