In a post a week or two ago (that I can’t find, now), I mentioned how surprised I was to discover from his own writings that John Calvin had something to say to me about human suffering. That is, I was surprised to find somebody I’d more or less written off as a tedious and, at least ecclesiologically mistaken, if somewhat necessary doctrinaire whip-cracker who lived during an age when humans barely had sense enough to utter two-syllable words, much less reflect.
Here’re some quotes taken from a slim volume edited by Emilie Griffin – John Calvin: Selections from His Writings, the 12th chapter:
“But as for us, there are many reasons why we must pass our lives under a continual cross.…(God) can best restrain this arrogance when he proves to us by experience not only the great incapacity but also the frailty under which we labor. Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace, poverty, bereavement, death, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, insofar as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon his power, which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions….Believers warned, I say, by such proofs of heir diseases advance toward humility and so, sloughing off perverse confidence in the flesh, betake themselves to God’s grace. (p. 125)”
“For not all of us suffer in equal degree from the same diseases or, on that account, need the same harsh cure. From this it is to be seen that some are tried by one kind of cross, others by another. But since the heavenly physician treats some more gently but cleanses others by harsher remedies, while he wills to provide for the health of all, he yet leaves no one free and untouched, because he knows that all, to a person, are diseased.…(p. 127)”
“….He afflicts us not to ruin or destroy us, but rather to free us from the condemnation of the world…Scripture teaches that this is the difference between unbelievers and believers: The former, like slaves of inveterate and double-dyed wickedness, with the chastisement become only worse and more obstinate. But the latter, like freeborn sons, attain repentance. Now you must choose in which group you would prefer to be numbered….(p. 127)”
“Yet such a cheerfulness is not required of us as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain. Otherwise, in the cross there would be no forbearance of the saints, unless they were tormented by pain and anguished by trouble. If there were not harshness in poverty, no torment in diseases, no sting in disgrace, no dread in death – what fortitude or moderation would there be in bearing them with indifference? But since each of these, with an inborn bitterness, by it’s very nature bites the hearts of us all, the fortitude of the believing person is brought to light if – tried by the feeling of such bitterness – however grievously he is troubled with it, yet valiantly resist, he surmounts it….You see that patiently to bear the cross is not to be utterly stupefied and to be deprived of all feeling of pain…(pp. 128-9)”
I could go on quoting from this chapter, but to do justice to the sense Calvin makes of much that befalls the believer especially, I’d have write out the chapter, verbatim. Better just to cadge a copy and read it for yourself. The editorial remark at the top of the chapter notes that the material following is taken from the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Three: The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ.