Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Poetry on Hope and Faith in Unlikely Places

Sometimes you can find poetic expression in the most unlikely places. Just as it's possible to find steamy marital references in Puritan town-hall records, it's possible to find poetry in John Calvin's commentaries:

[Re: Romans 4:18- 'Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations'] "And, doubtless, there is nothing more injurious to faith than to fasten our minds to tour eyes, that we may from what we see, seek a reason for our hope...for except faith flies upward on celestial wings, so as to look down on all the perceptions of the flesh as on things far below, it will stick fast in the mud of the world...for when he had no ground for hoping he yet in hope relied on the promise of God; and he thought it a sufficient reason for hoping, that the Lord had promised, however incredible the thing was in itself."

After a great explanation of how Abraham shuts his mind to the clamoring of the flesh (I can't possibly have a child at this age, with Sarah!), Calvin has this to say about Abraham 'being not weak in faith':
"..he vacillated not, nor fluctuated, as we usually do under difficult circumstances. There is indeed a twofold weakness of faith - one is that which, by succumbing to trying adversities, occasions a falling away from the supporting power of God - the other arises from imperfection, but does not extinguish faith itself: for the mind is never so illuminated, but that many relics of ignorance remain; the heart is never so strengthened, but that much doubting cleaves to it. Hence with these vices of the flesh, ignorance and doubt, the faithful have a continual conflict, and in this conflict their faith is often dreadfully shaken and distressed, but at length it comes forth victorious; so that they may be said to be strong even in weakness."

The Lord seems to love these paradoxes of comparison and contrast. Even in re-reading the account of Abraham and Sarah being given the most wonderful news of their life, it struck me that God was multitasking. He came down to encourage his child Abraham with a great word of promise about the coming Seed who was to crush the serpent, and also to crush some of the serpent's children in Sodom and Gomorrah. First to bless, then to curse - not only for an object lesson to Abraham regarding what would happen to rebellious covenant children who forgot their teaching "to do righteousness and justice", but also to rescue a covenant child (Lot) who had forgotten how to be salt and light. His wife became salt, and Sodom's darkness exploded from the power of the Light that visited it from on high. Little did Lot know that his prayers to God would be answered so drastically. (In God's kingdom, until we reach heaven, there is never blessing unalloyed.)

The fight of faith is always obscured by what we see:

"All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: He declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins; He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true."

Amen to that, John! ....and now, wisdom from Icanhascheezburger:

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