O God, stamp eternity on my eyeballs…
There is no New Wisdom!
May 4, 2009Posted by on
In an article entitled ‘Calvin Saw this Coming,’ in USA Today, May 4th, 2009 page 13A, Henry G Brinton made some startling and profound statements concerning the time we are in. “In this time of political change and economic crisis…we look to our leaders to find just the right words.” This leader Brinton eluded to was John Calvin, a Protestant Reformer born in 1509. You may be aghast that we might bring these men and their teachings up from the grave. In fact, aren’t they old fuddy-duddies? Never. There is no new wisdom and we perish because we do not learn history and study the insights, almost prophetically, of men of renown like this man. Calvin “knew human weakness” Brinton goes on to say, “and was deeply concerned about idolatry and worried about the human tendency to worship things instead of the one Lord God, creator of heaven and earth.” Moreover, Calvin would have been troubled by the events of today and almost sympathetically would have said, “I told you so.”
10 years ago there appeared an article written for the The Atlantic called “The Market as God.” It doesn’t take a man like Calvin to be concerned about this. Even i have winced to read this. Do you? Do you see the predicament we find ourselves in, money being flashed around like it is this nations savior? Bailouts, bankruptcies and boob jobs; this is the extent of our humanity? We see something isn’t right in our own eyes and we try to fix it?
Brinton goes on to say that the false god is the stock market and it has not been the savior we have hoped it to be. “The market should never be confused with God,” says Brinton. Calvin knew the inherent tendencies in each of us that “every one of us is, even from the mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.” So it would not surprise Calvin the situation we are in today. What would he teach us today?
1. Calvin was instrumental in eliminating the medieval prohibition against interest and allowed people to make a fair return on their investments. Surely this put him ahead of his time but he called on Christians to live frugal, disciplined and simple lives. Calvin fostered savings.
2. Additionally, he exhorted and encouraged the people to seek the public good not just private gains. Randall Zachman, professor of Reformation Studies at the University of Notre Dame has said of Calvin, “For Calvin the greatest theft is perpetrated by legal contracts and transactions, not explicitly criminal behavior.” What does this tell us? Where are we being robbed? If in medieval times the government and rulers robbed the people of their basic freedoms, what can we see of the present administration and their plans for contractual agreements with banks, auto makers and nations?
3. John Calvin’s joy was to see education abound as a critical priority. He ruled that, “youth should be faithfully instructed.” To him this included both poor young men and women. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in NY city says, “In a time in which women weren’t even supposed to read, Calvin had the courage to imagine them not only as educated citizens, but also as religious and political leaders.” Today, education has been replaced by TV, video games and mind-numbing DVD players. Be courageous enough to spare not one more minute to rid your home and your family from these wasteful instruments.
But, what a complex world we live in, Brinton seems to suggest, and democracy is in the balances. Reinhold Neibuhr, a 20th century theologian with a Calvinistic pedigree, is famous for saying, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Truly, we have forfeited our roles to do justly, to love mercy and seek our neighbors gain. It is in our power to do such things, Calvin would agree, but “never approach the perfection of God, but still…challenged to work together for justice and clarity in an ambiguous world,” says Brinton.
In conclusion, democracy owes a debt of gratitude to Calvin who had a firm grasp of the idea and the proper workings of it. There are checks and balances inherent within. Without these checks and balances democracy declines into humanism and progresses toward communism or marxism. We are dangerously close in this nation, we are at the threshold of repeating history. Isn’t it true that there is no new wisdom, it is learned within the past. Let us apply it to the present. Calvin did understand the church and its function to be the moral compass of society. He did understand democracy as working only as the church is working properly. It was his practice to establish the local church government in which clergy and lay leaders had equal power. Ministers were selected by the people. Have we failed in this regard?
Next weeks headlines…Judgment to begin in the House of God!