But while man must bear the guilt of corrupting the seed of divine knowledge so wondrously deposited in his mind, and preventing it from bearing good and genuine fruit, it is still most true that we are not sufficiently instructed by that bare and simple, but magnificent testimony which the creatures bear to the glory of their Creator. For no sooner do we, from a survey of the world, obtain some slight knowledge of Deity, than we pass by the true God, and set up in his stead the dream and phantom of our own brain, drawing away the praise of justice, wisdom, and goodness from the fountain-head, and transferring it to some other quarter.
John Calvin, 1509-1564, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter V, 15, (translated by Henry Beveridge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1975, Vol. 1, pp. 62, 63).
Can we learn about God from nature? What are the limits of this?
One of the key values of western
society is rugged individualism. But does this really fit in with what the
Scripture teaches? Scripture teaches, rather, that Christians are parts of one
body and are members of one another (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27;
Ephesians 4:1-16). The implication of this is that we need one another and
every member is important. Also, that the members are different, but they work
together to build each other up. That we should feel one another’s joys and
sorrows. That we should work together to accomplish God’s purposes on earth.
But do we see ourselves this way? Or do we see the church as a place we go to
on Sunday or a club we are members of? Now do not get me wrong; the Christian
church should be organized (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Corinthians
14:40). But this church is the reflection of the real church, the body of
Christ, which Christ works through to accomplish His purposes in the world. Now
this reflection may sometimes be imperfect. There may be people in leadership
who do not belong there. The person God uses to overturn the current order and
cure the corruption of the church may be an obscure monk from an obscure town
in Germany. In an imperfect world under sin and a curse, the manifestation may
not always reflect the reality. But it is still the expression of God in this
Now there are two errors people can
fall into here. We can identity the outward expression with the true church and
claim that the current leadership are the perfect expression of God’s will on
earth, even though Scripture clearly teaches that all things should be checked
by Scripture (Galatians 1:8,9; Isaiah 8:20; Acts 17:11). But we can make the
opposite mistake and feel we can go it alone without the assistance of others.
Or we can settle for superficial involvement where we show up but make no deep
connections. But Scripture says we each have a gift, given to build one another
up. There is no gift so minor it is not needed. There is no gift so great that
the one who has it does not need others to build into their lives. We all need
one another, that in connection to the Head (Colossians 2:19), we may encourage
and built each other up (Hebrews 10:24,25) to be Christ’s hands and feet to
minster to a hurting world.
One of the hardest things can be
waiting on God for His timing. We live in a culture where we want what we want
when we want it. Also, we want the whole plan lain out before us before we
start anything. But God asks us to wait on Him (Psalms 123:2; 130:6; Isaiah
40:28-31; Jeremiah 14:22). It seems to be God’s plan that He leads us step by
step and makes us wait for His perfect timing. Abraham was called by God to
inherit a land neither he nor his immediate descendents were able to actually
Moses thought he knew what needed to
be done and tried to deliver his people from slavery and failed, and had to
wait forty years till God appeared to him and enabled him to do the job God’s
way. David was anointed king of Israel and then spent many years running from
Saul before he was put in as king. Elijah was fed at a brook by ravens until
the brook dried up and he was sent to a widow woman among the Gentiles to be
provided for there. Paul was saved and called to be an apostle, but spent a
number of years waiting before he actually set out to do the work.
This all fits in very well with my
own life. There have been times I have felt I knew exactly what God wanted me
to do. I remember walking into a church for the first time and hearing the
pastor say, “We need someone to be in charge of Sunday School and I’m not going
to do it. But maybe there’s someone who just walked in the door to do this
job.” And I felt God tap me on the shoulder and say, “You’re the one.” There
have been many more times when I have wondered what God was doing with my life.
And times I was left bewildered, wondering what to do next. I
remember being unemployed and repeatedly praying to God for guidance and
getting no clear answer, and it took several months for me to find the job I
ended up sticking with. But God has always brought me through. Now I am 61 years old and dying of cancer if God does not work a miracle, and I still not sure about why God has led me the places He has.
I would therefore make the following
suggestions for waiting on the Lord, especially in difficult or perplexing
times. Trust in God, even if you do not see how the present situation will work
out (Proverbs 3:5, 6). Understand that God has a plan for your life and things
He wants you to do, even if you are not sure what they are (Ephesians 2:10).
Serve God where you are at and take advantage of the opportunities you are
given to do so (Galatians 6:9,10). But, most of all, we should remember that
God will bring about His plan in His own time, on His own schedule (Habakkuk
What is freedom? The common answer is, the ability to do whatever we want. The problem with that is, we do not always want the right things. The things God commands are what is good (Romans 7:12-14; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:33-40). But we are sinners who do not do what is right (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). And sin, by its very nature, is enslaving (Romans 6:16-18; John 8:34; Hebrews 2:14,15). It looks good in the beginning. But in the end, it is a chain which binds us.
This is obvious in the case of certain sins, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, and gambling. But it is also true of other sins. Take, for example, anger or greed. They start out as minor, and we think we are in control of them, but gradually they come to control us. That is why one thing God has to set us free from is ourselves. And that requires giving up our selfish desires for His (Matthew 16:24-26; Romans 12:1,2; 6:12-16). Also, God wants us to dwell in community (Romans 12:4,5; 1 Corinthians 12:12,13; Hebrews 10:24,25). And that requires us to be willing to put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3,4; Galatians 5:13,14; Romans 13:8-10). In this sense, spiritual liberty is like political liberty. It is only possible if we take responsibility for our behavior and are willing to voluntarily limit our actions to make it work. It simply is not possible to create a world where we can heedlessly follow our own selfish desires.
But the solution is not for us to decide to obey the rules. For we are still sinners and cannot do that which is right on our own (Romans 8:8; 7:18; John 15:5). Also, we face the penalty for our past sins (Galatians 3:10-12; Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:11-15). This then leads to a new sort of bondage (Galatians 5:1; Matthew 23:4; Romans 7:4-6). But Christ paid the whole price for our sin (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and offers salvation based on faith in Him (Galatians 2:15,16; Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4;4,5). This results in our being set free from both types of bondage (Galatians 4:4-7; Romans 8:15-17; John 8:35-36). We therefore serve God, not in order to earn something from Him, but out of love for a salvation already obtained (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Titus 2:11-14). And we do it in the power He supplies (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:3; Colossians 1:29). That does not mean it will always be easy. Growth in Christ is a process that happens through time and effort (Philippians 3:12-16; 1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 12:1,2). But it is done with a new attitude, not of slavery, but of freedom in Christ. And this is rooted in the confidence that we belong to Christ and that He will finish what He has begun (Romans 8:29,30; Philippians 1:6; 1 John 5:11-13).