Book 3 Chapter 10 Section 1-6
If there is a motto for the 21st century Brit, this is it! Our media screams out day after day as a mantra for modern day living, “Go on spoil yourself you deserve it”. We know that we don’t really need that flat screen TV, ipod, new mobile phone, anti-aging cream, XBOX 360 (delete as appropriate!) but we buy them, why? “Because we are worth it”. We deserve the best that life can offer and no one has the right to tell us otherwise. Restraint and moderation have been forgotten and our society has embraced materialism with a religious fervour – that is until the credit crunch hit.
Calvin takes a very different approach to our possessions. He poses the refreshing suggestion that we should use the various things in creation for the purpose they were created. Why did God make food, clothing, flowers, or precious stones? Not only for our sustenance but also our enjoyment. But this enjoyment should not go to excess, so that we over-indulge our appetites and end up abusing the God-ordained purpose of the object. We should bear in mind that “the object of creating all things was to teach us to know their author, and feel grateful for his indulgence.” In regard to food, Calvin asks “where is the gratitude, if you so gorge or stupify yourself with feasting and wine as to be unfit for offices of piety, of the duties of your calling?”
If we become so obsessed with the gifts and forget the Giver we risk becoming like the gifts. As Calvin says “for many are so devoted to luxury in all their senses, that their mind lies buried: many are so delighted with marble, gold and pictures that they become marble-hearted…The kitchen, with its savoury smells, so engrosses them that they have no spiritual savour.” Rather we should view ourselves as stewards of all that we have, recognising that in fact we really own nothing (1 Cor 7.29).
How refreshing it would be for us all to use things for the way they were created, if we all used food for the pleasure and nourishment it provided without becoming anorexic or obese. What would society look like if we all used clothes for the simple purposes they were created? No fashion industry would be needed, no sweat shops in Asia, no competing to keep up with the latest look.
While some may say Calvin is advocating an Amish-type existence, he is no kill-joy. He is all for enjoying the good things in life, but framing that enjoyment within the purposes of the Creator. What advice would Calvin have for us regarding our possessions? I think he would say, use it, enjoy it, but don’t let it master you or abuse it beyond its natural purpose. Best of all, be content with whatever God has given you, patiently bear hard times, use what you have to bless others and realise that you have these things, not because you are worth it, but because He entrusted you with it.
“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say “Who is the Lord?” Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of God.” Proverbs 30.8-9