Friday, October 23, 2009

It's Friday and I am very excited that my brother, Charlie, and my sister-in-law, Corinne, have come to Hong Kong for a visit. Charlie will be preaching at Christ Church on Sunday. You will be able to listen to his sermon on the Christ Church web-site.

Below I post the third in my radio talks on John Calvin. Coincidentally, in it I mention an incident that happened over the Summer when we were on holiday together!

I notice that Paul Helm has a series of posts on John Calvin on the Guardian newspaper web-site. They are excellent and complement what I am trying to say. Read them here:

I am about to have a cup of coffee now and listen to the Archers!

Have a good weekend!

Talk Three: God is in Control

Calvin’s ‘big idea’ to use the words of one Calvin scholar was that we know ourselves when we know God and we will come to know God when we know ourselves. In other words, the secret to finding the meaning and purpose of life lies in finding God.

It is common for people to sum up Calvin’s theology using the acronym TULIP. This is supposed to give us the five points of Calvinism. So taking each letter in turn: T stands for Total Depravity: the idea that we are all infected and affected in every aspect of our being by sin. U stands for Unconditional Election the idea that God chooses those he wants to save and know him without any reference to who they are or what they have done. L is for Limited Atonement: Christ died for those God chose and not for everyone. I is Irresistible Grace: those so chosen and for whom Christ died are called by God in such a way that they cannot resist his calling. And P, the Perseverance of the Saints: those called by God will be kept by God in such a way that they cannot and will not fall.

These ideas are certainly to be found in Calvin, but this summary describes Calvinism better than it describes Calvin. It may sum up the beliefs of his followers, but it is totally inadequate as description of the theology of the person who wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion one of the greatest works of Christian theology in the history of the Church. Calvin’s theology defies easy summary and simple acronyms. Rather than attempting to describe it, I would instead like to pick three themes from his theology that I think speak to us today.

Teenagers I know use the word random to describe things. As in, ‘Ross that was so random’. It is used somewhat pejoratively to describe something that seems to have no meaning, something out of context and unexpected. For many this is what life itself is like. It’s so random. It is an idea constantly reinforced by the media. Life is portrayed as being unpredictable. The spirit of our age tells us that life has no ultimate meaning. There is no grand plan. No great purpose. You have to make up your own story, find your own meaning, make the most of now. After all, life is not a dress rehearsal.

And life can seem very random. Sickness, tragedy, death: what’s the point? Where’s the meaning? In the Summer, I went back to Scotland on holiday. On the way home from Scotland I was driving on the motorway. Suddenly and without warning, while driving, I got a puncture. Fortunately, no-one was hurt and nothing was damaged - apart from the tyre that is! We were, however, severely held up. We had been in the middle lane. We weren’t going particularly fast. There was nothing we could have done to prevent what happened: it was so random.

For some this is a metaphor of what life is like. You never know when it is going to go wrong and there is nothing you can do to prevent bad things happening. Some versions of Christianity seem to go along with this. God, they say, has given us free-will and leaves us to get on with it. We make our own luck and write our own story. Yes, of course, we try to follow Christ’s teaching, but essentially it is up to us.

Whatever else this is, it’s not Biblical Christianity. In the Bible, God is the God who moves nations around and even when they are at their most powerful and evil, he uses them to achieve his will and purpose.

In all he wrote and taught, Calvin emphasized above all the greatness of God.

St Paul writes: ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him’. Let us make no mistake. Pain is pain and it hurts. Sickness, tragedy and death are all horrible. In this world we have suffering, and we weep and we cry and so we should. But no matter how bad things may be and at times they can be very bad, nothing can thwart God’s plan for his creation and for us.

No matter what the appearance to the contrary may be, it’s not random: God is in control.

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