Westminster Seminary California
Doctrine Considered and Applied: Calvin on Providence, pt. 2
Doctrine Considered and Applied: Calvin on Providence, pt. 2

Scriptural Reflections

Genesis 22.7-8: When things are beyond our abilities

When we encounter difficulties far beyond our abilities, our natural reaction is to do our best to fix the problem even when it is beyond our control. Look, however, what Abraham did in such a case:

And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said,  “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together (Gen. 22.7-8).

Read what Calvin has to say about this verse:

It is important to notice the manner in which [Abraham] unties this inextricable knot; namely, by taking refuge in Divine Providence, ‘God will provide himself a lamb.’ This example is proposed for our imitation. Whenever the Lord gives a command, many things are perpetually occurring to enfeeble our purpose: means fail, we are destitute of counsel, all avenues seem closed. In such straits, the only remedy against despondency is, to leave the event to God, in order that he may open a way for us where there is none.  For as we act unjustly towards God, when we hope for nothing from him but what our senses can perceive, so we pay Him the highest honor, when, in affairs of perplexity, we nevertheless entirely acquiesce in his providence” (Comm. Gen., 568).

Hence, when things are beyond our abilities, Calvin encourages the Christian to trust totally in the Providence of God. How often to we fight with and worry about things that we could never possibly change because they are simply bigger than us? This is something, though, that we should not do. We should, rather, turn the situation over to God and trust that God is using these events to conform us to the image of Christ.

Job 13.15: When things go wrong in our lives

How often do we look at our lives and are able to praise God because things are going well? It is easy to praise God and rejoice when life is a bed of roses. How should we respond in the face of adversity? What was Job’s response? “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Calvin explains Job’s point in a sermon by saying:

“For you see that the faithful are fully resolved on this point; namely, to put their trust in God, and to hope for salvation by His hand, no matter what happens in the world.  But this thing they cannot do, unless they have God for their father, and flee to Him for refuge: it is as if they should say, ‘God has been my Father to the uttermost, and the has given me the ability to believe in Him and persevere. Therefore I must call upon Him, put myself into His keeping, and not doubt but remember that he will always be merciful to me. Yes, but He scourges me, and when I try to draw near to Him, it is as if He has not heard me. Truly, this is hard and cumbersome to bear, but I must still trust in God with patience, and give to Him honor and rest myself upon His promises. Oh how the faithful are fully resolved in that point” (Sermons on Job, p. 236).

Note how Calvin encouraged his congregation that no matter how difficult things seemed, and even though it appeared as if God was crushing them with a trial and not hearing their prayers—they were nevertheless to trust in God and in his providence. Hence, we should pray to God that He give us the strength to trust in Him regardless of the circumstances. Calvin believed that we should seek God and trust in His provident hand in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. Why? Because this is a truth that Calvin also found in other parts of Scripture such as Romans 8.28, a text that rotates upon the axis of conforming us to the image of Christ.

Part 3 appears next week!