Thursday March 24
Institutes Book 3, Chapter 8, Section 11
Calvin draws this chapter to a conclusion by examining the outlook that a person has when they consider the purpose for personal suffering. He says that the philosophers may reach the point of acknowledging that personal suffering is a necessary thing and must be accepted as unavoidable. But that approach doesn't lead us to an encounter with a personal God. Instead, we when see suffering in this manner it takes the shape of being mere fate or destiny. By contrast, a Christian receives suffering as coming from the hand of our heavenly father. In that posture we can recognize that God has a purpose for good even in the midst of painful circumstances.
"Therefore, in patiently suffering these tribulations, we do not yield to thinking of it as mere necessity, but we consent for our own good... However much in bearing the cross our minds are constrained by the natural feeling of bitterness, they are as much diffused with spiritual joy. From this, thanksgiving also follows - which cannot exist without joy. But if the praise of the Lord and thanksgiving can come forth only from a cheerful and happy heart, it is therefore clear how necessary it is that the bitterness of the cross be tempered with spiritual joy." (3.8.11)
We have already seen how Calvin looks realistically at the experience of human suffering. He does not ask us to deny that carrying the cross of personal pain actually hurts. He doesn't tell us to pretend that all is rosy when we are suffering. But in this closing section he promises that there is joy which tempers the bitterness of the cross. This is a hope that we can grasp hold of. In the midst of suffering, God has not abandoned us. Instead he the presence of God lifts up our spirit. We can find thanksgiving and even joy in the midst of suffering.
"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." - Hebrews 12:1b-2
(The post for Friday will be our final post for this series. Thanks for following with us!) - Matt