Book I Chapter IV Section 1-4
In this Chapter Calvin examines how mankind has responded to the sense of the divine that that we read about in the previous chapters. Have they gratefully acknowledged this truth and sought more light? Unfortunately not; rather than lead them to a deeper understanding of God, they have instead suppressed the truth.
Calvin admits that this suppression may be done ignorantly (and lead to superstition), or maliciously (leading to intentional rebellion against God’s rule). When the superstition is combined with our natural spiritual blindness, as a result of original sin, it results in spiritual pride and stubbornness. From this position true knowledge of God is impossible, instead a sanitised, impotent god is constructed in our own image and understanding. Although Calvin has some sympathy for the spiritually blind, he states that they too are without excuse because their pride leads them headlong into error.
On the other hand there are those who willfully suppress the truth that has been revealed to them. They close their own eyes to his truth and he responds by hardening their hearts. Calvin suggests that they do not deny God’s existence but his activity – “He (the fool) says to himself “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees”” Psalm 10.11. This kind of rebel does not say that God is not there, but that if he is there he will not act.
Calvin’s final point is that a man-made God is always a tame God. True religion is worshipping God on his terms or not at all. Anything else is man’s image projected onto the clouds. Indeed, although the rebel and the superstitious seem poles apart, both groups have this in common – they both abhor the right of God to govern his creatures according to his own justice and truth. The former rejects and runs, the latter kowtows and corrupts – spreading false rumours and misguided opinions from within the walls. Both would rather overthrow God than allow him to exercise his rightful rule and authority.
The true test of whether our religion be superstition or genuine is firstly whether we allow God to be God and not accommodate him to our culture or personal sensitivities and secondly whether the fruit is good. The superstitious would rather indulge than restrain and they finally become lost in “a maze of error”.
There is a lot to consider in today’s reading. I’m reminded of the passages in the scriptures that speak of those who tried to combine their own misguided views of God with the self-revelation of God through the prophets and apostles. People like Balaam in Numbers 22 and Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 stand out as examples of those who really got it wrong.
But the real challenge for me today is how much do I, as someone who believes in the inspiration of scripture, really allow it to alter my view of God and how much do I still try and tame him to fit my own preferences?
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as god nor gave thanks to him as God, but their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1.21
Father we come before you to seek to know you as you truly are, not as we would like you to be or as we currently understand you to be. Only you can reveal yourself – open our hearts and minds to spiritual truths and take down every false view of you. Broaden and deepen our understanding of your character and qualities. Open your word to us that we may see you clearly in every verse. We look to you today, Amen.