I’m finding some solace in this from John Calvin today:
…miserable men do not rise above themselves as they should, but measure him by the yardstick of their own carnal stupidity, and neglect sound investigation; thus out of curiosity they fly off into empty speculations. They do not therefore apprehend God as he offers himself, but imagine him as they have fashioned him in their own presumption. (Calvin, Institutes, 47)
Strange place to find encouragement, eh? Hear me out, though, and you might find some encouragement too.
I am an associate pastor in Jasper, Indiana. I am finding Jasper to be a difficult community to minister in. As a German-Catholic community my neighbors have a terrific work ethic, a deep love for family, and a desire to be good people. By many standards Jasper is a very successful community.
Yet, this is a difficult place to do ministry. Partly because it’s not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. Most of the people in our community are distracted by moralism and/or materialism. Even those that are “broken” still have this mindset. God, then, becomes a means to be more awesome.
At the end of the day our community is filled with lots of “good people” pursuing the “good life” straight to hell. Even those that claim Christ can fall for the comfortable moralism and shiny materialism of our culture.
Why, then, do I take comfort from that Calvin quote?
It’s all about the yardstick. Even though the numbers on that measuring stick are different in 2013 Indiana than they were in 1560 Geneva, still the heart of man is basically the same. We aren’t unique in our situation. Sinners have always been the same and they (we) are saved the same way as we always have been. A dead and diabolical heart has the same prescription no matter how dead or diabolical it may be.
The yardstick that our community measures by is not decisive. Yes, it is beneficial to know that our context will interpret things through the lens of materialism and/or moralism. But at the end of the day the gospel is more powerful than those false lenses. Jesus can break the yardstick of our carnal stupidity and rescue us by His grace.
Therefore, I am encouraged today to do the same thing that Calvin did in Geneva; namely, keep preaching the gospel and sharing it with men and women. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation and that never changes. No matter what god your community has fashioned in their own imagination the real God is able to make any Dagon bow before him (1 Samuel 5:2-7).