John Calvin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Why are we shocked when things like this, this, or this happen?
These sensational stories are tragic, no doubt. Scary, even. But we seem to think we’d never do or even be capable of such heinous acts. Then we bolt our door against our neighbor (rightly or wrongly, I can’t say; that’s up to you). Some believe we’re naturally moral. Still others say: red in tooth and claw.
The scriptures conclude we all fall short of God’s glory. But isn’t this an overstatement of our condition? Aren’t we really good, but just misguided, unmotivated, or low informational?
Paul, in the letter to the Romans, elaborates on what he concludes in case we were unsure:
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
So, we have no excuse to be shocked at these sensational stories. This is the condition of man. However, if this is so, why then do we not claw and bite until we are no more?
John Calvin, a theologian not often cited now–a–days, suggests in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 17, and paragraph 11:
…How comes it, I ask, that their confidence never fails, but just that while the world apparently revolves at random, they know that God is everywhere at work, and feel assured that his work will be their safety? When assailed by the devil and wicked men, were they not confirmed by remembering and meditating on Providence, they should, of necessity, forthwith despond. But when they call to mind that the devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much so ever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay, unless in so far as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service,—when the godly think of all these things they have ample sources of consolation. For, as it belongs to the lord to arm the fury of such foes and turn and destine it at pleasure, so it is his also to determine the measure and the end, so as to prevent them from breaking loose and wantoning as they list…
So God not only constrains the evildoer but commands him to do His bidding, yet without complicity or taint thrown back upon Him. But why, if we’re this way, are we guilty at all?
Calvin says in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 17, and paragraph 5:
… As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will. Why, then, they ask, should the thief be punished for robbing him whom the Lord chose to chastise with poverty? Why should the murderer be punished for slaying him whose life the Lord had terminated? If all such persons serve the will of God, why should they be punished?
I deny that they serve the will of God. For we cannot say that he who is carried away by a wicked mind performs service on the order of God, when he is only following his own malignant desires. He obeys God, who, being instructed in his will, hastens in the direction in which God calls him.
But how are we so instructed unless by his word? The will declared by his word is, therefore, that which we must keep in view in acting, God requires of us nothing but what he enjoins. If we design anything contrary to his precept, it is not obedience, but contumacy and transgression. But if he did not will it, we could not do it. I admit this.
But do we act wickedly for the purpose of yielding obedience to him? This, assuredly, he does not command. Nay, rather we rush on, not thinking of what he wishes, but so inflamed by our own passionate lust, that, with destined purpose, we strive against him. And in this way, while acting wickedly, we serve his righteous ordination, since in his boundless wisdom he well knows how to use bad instruments for good purposes.
And see how absurd this mode of arguing is. They will have it that crimes ought not to be punished in their authors, because they are not committed without the dispensation of God. I concede more—that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of Divine Providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the Judgments which he has resolved to inflict.
But I deny that this forms any excuse for their misdeeds. For how? Will they implicate God in the same iniquity with themselves, or will they cloak their depravity by his righteousness? They cannot exculpate themselves, for their own conscience condemns them: they cannot charge God, since they perceive the whole wickedness in themselves, and nothing in Him save the legitimate use of their wickedness…
So, it is apparent that Romans 3 is true and we are not only held back from what we could do but others are employed to execute God’s judgments and, yet, are solely guilty of their transgression.
I see the tendency to do wrong in myself all the time. Do you? The only remedy is falling at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ in surrender because he says: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.