As I committed to reading through Calvin’s Institutes with a friend, in honour of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, I thought it would be worth jotting down some bits that I found particularly interesting. Here’s the quote for today:
For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in [physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines], we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths. But lest anyone think a man truly blessed when he is credited with possessing great power to comprehend truth under the elements of this world [cf. Col. 2:8], we should at once add that all this capacity to understand, with the understanding that follows it, is an unstable and transitory thing in God’s sight, when a solid foundation of truth does not underlie it.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, 2.16
Last time we looked at Science as something we should thank God for. Today Calvin takes the other side of that coin: the pride that comes with a deep understanding of the way the world works.
If you’re someone who is quite learned, or you’ve got a quick mind, there’s a particular warning in here for you. All your knowledge, whether an amateur or expert scientist, is unstable and transitory. You can spend your life accumulating facts, theories, data and journal papers. But in the end, you will die, and all your knowledge—of sub-atomic particles; of molecular interactions and chemical reactions; of biological processes and infectious diseases—all will fade and pale in comparison to the truth of God the Creator and Jesus our Saviour.
It’s not to say your knowledge is useless—it’s certainly not, and we thank God for science every day. But unless based on the truth, it’s unwieldy and temporary. So make sure you’re investing at least as much time in your relationship with Jesus as you are in your reading on the latest scientific breakthrough.
Maybe for some of you, you don’t feel particularly burdened by an impressive intellect of your own, so hopefully this would be a relief for you. If salvation came only through our knowledge of the world and how it works, we’d all be goners. So, don’t feel bad talking to a sciencey friend about Jesus—ultimately he’s the one everyone needs.