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Friday, January 11, 2013

Calvin 365 Week II

Book One: The Knowledge of God the Creator

Calvin begins his monumental work appropriately addressing the topic of knowledge. “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[1]

Knowledge is not power; it is everything for Calvin. It is vitally important to understand God, to understand yourself and (perhaps most importantly) to understand your relationship to God.
In our understanding of God we are after knowledge that will lead to a personal understanding of God. He writes, “Now, the knowledge of God, as I understand it, is that by which we not only conceive that there is a God but also grasp what befits us and is proper to his glory, in fine, what is to our advantage to know him.”[2]

John is in many ways following the logic and argument that Paul presents in Romans chapter 1-3.20.  He does this by demonstrating that everyone has an inborn knowledge of God, that because of the universe we have an external proof of God’s existence and character (providence) and as a result no one is without excuse when it comes to how they live their lives. 

Guido deBres was able to craft his beautiful interpretation of this revelation in the Belgic Confession Article 2:

The Means by Which We Know God
We know God by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government
of the universe,
since that universe is before our eyes
like a beautiful book
in which all creatures,
great and small,
are as letters
to make us ponder
the invisible things of God:
God's eternal power and divinity,
as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.
All these things are enough to convict humans
and to leave them without excuse.
Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly
by his holy and divine Word,
as much as we need in this life,
for God's glory
and for our salvation.

We are able to know there is a God through general revelation, that is his “creation, preservation and government of the universe.” As Calvin says, “As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him.”[3] Secondly, we know God through specific revelation through his “holy and divine Word.” 

He spends a great deal of time (I’m now on page 72) building this argument. All in all, there is not much that he is making clear that he didn’t already make clear in the initial opening of this work. It has been a while since I read the first part of the Institutes so perhaps I’m just remembering what I already read as I read and thus feeling a bit…bored.

But with that being said, it is worth noting that there is an important point that Paul, and now Calvin makes: people are without excuse. The argument, “What about those who have never heard of Jesus?” isn’t a valid argument. Just by observing the world around them people are able to discern that there is indeed a God. But that they then do not believe is their own fault, and not the fault of God. This indeed is a hard saying, but the truth is never easy. 

Alongside that, if we are to truly learn about ourselves and who we are then we realize that if we were to rely on human achievements or the human will all would be lost. Only if something from outside ourselves were to enter our reality and rescue us would there be hope. True knowledge of self cannot but help point us to our need for a Savior. 

In the end, this all amounts to misguided knowledge. If knowledge of God and of ourselves is of the utmost importance, and we are honest about ourselves, we must acknowledge that when all is said and done all we have done is spent too much time learning about the wrong things and ignoring, even denying, the true God.

[1] 1.1.1
[2] 1.1.2
[3] 1.1.5

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