Indeed, vanity joined with pride can be detected in the fact that, in seeking God, miserable men do not rise above themselves as they should, but measure him by the yardstick of their own carnal stupidity, and neglect sound investigation; thus out of curiosity they fly off into empty speculations. They do not therefore apprehend God as he offers himself, but imagine him as they have fashioned him in their own presumption. When this gulf opens, in whatever direction they move their feet, they cannot but plunge headlong into ruin. Indeed, whatever they afterward attempt by way of worship or service of God, they cannot bring as tribute to him, for they are worshiping not God but a figment and a dream of their own heart.
Is it wrong that I mostly like this quote because of the phrase “carnal stupidity”?
Obviously there is more to it than that. We make God in our own image. Often. And badly. And I’m struggling to come up with a category of people who don’t do it. Non-believers do it. There’s definitely a strain of “spirituality” out there that holds on to a god that is the best of what people can come up with. A great person to the Nth degree. Agnostics do it. There may or may not be someone/something out there who is bigger/better/stronger/more powerful than I/we/you/they. More comparisons. More extrapolations. I even think atheists do it. Taking earthly constructs and rejecting them. But. As troublesome as these things are, there is a more dangerous category.
Christians. I’ll be honest. This quote grabbed my attention because in the struggles my denomination is currently undergoing I feel like I’m seeing a whole lot of people looking to themselves to determine who God is and what he wants from us. Our presbyteries are currently voting on an amendment which is built on a foundation they view as, in their own words, fundamental to our denomination’s constitution. In their understanding there exists a “hierarchy of authority in which [the church is] to obey Jesus Christ its Head, and, additionally, to heed first the Scriptures and then the confessions [referring to our denomination’s Book of Confessions, an authoritative compilation of ecumenical and Reformed confessions], to the extent that they accurately bear witness to Christ’s will.”
As I said, this particular group believes this notion is fundamental to our constitution, I couldn’t disagree more. The consequence of this notion–that we can somehow separate Christ’s will from Scripture–is striking me as downright ludicrous. Help me out here, with that quote, if you can. The phrase “to the extent that they accurately bear witness to Christ’s will,” what is its antecedent? To what does it refer? To the confessions only? Or to Scripture, too? Because I worry they’re talking about Scripture, too. You can qualify the confessions. They are indeed written by men (mostly, though some of the later ones had women involved), and while they were entered into prayerfully and while I trust God’s Holy Spirit was involved in their writing, they are not Canon. They are not the Word of God. They are some folks’ best efforts at articulating in a particular context within a specific crisis what Scripture reveals to be the nature of God. They are authoritative only “to the extent that they accurately bear witness to Christ’s will.”
But Scripture? Well, that’s exactly how we determine Christ’s will. We read Scripture. There can be no hierarchy where Jesus Christ and Scripture are concerned. Especially from the Reformed perspective. Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, the Scriptures are the Word of God written. God’s Word, living breathing in the flesh by his Holy Spirit on/in/off/through the page. By God’s divine providence, our one source of knowledge of our Lord in Jesus Christ is Scripture, his written Word. God’s Holy Spirit lives and breathes through God’s Word, revealing Christ’s will. How else would we determine it? By looking to ourselves and our experiences, measuring him by our carnal stupidity and flying off into empty speculations. Did I mention how Calvin keeps reminding me that there is nothing new under the sun?
I’d like to end my musings there. Really I would. It’s all a rant against the “other” in my denomination. They are full of carnal stupidity. However. That’s too easy. It’s too easy to look only to where other folk are getting it wrong. I started by saying I can’t think of a single category of people to whom this passage does not apply. That includes fine, upstanding, orthodox Christians as well. I want to say it’s only “them”: the non-believers, the atheists, the agnostics, the humanists, the flamin’ liberals. But I can’t. Today Calvin God challenges me to reflect on the ways I seek to make him over in my own image, to ask myself, “How do I, as a believer, seek to imagine God based on my own yardstick? In what ways do I look to myself first to determine who God is?” He convicts me to look more closely, more deeply, more often at his written Word. To seek his revelation of himself to me. To trust him to know himself better than I can contrive. Lord, illumine my mind, my heart, my soul to know you better and to love you more. Amen.