Results tagged “Travel” from Reformation21 Blog

Scripture's account of Abraham's trip from Ur to Canaan via Haran, subsequent ramble through the Promised Land, and short but eventful stay in Egypt before rewinding his course through Canaan, provides Calvin with ample opportunity to reflect upon the nature of human faith in response to God's vocation and promises. "All should form themselves," Calvin contends, "to the imitation of [Abraham's] example" -- his example, that is, of faith. No matter his wife's barren status, Abraham took God at his word when God pledged himself to multiply Abraham's progeny (Gen. 12.2) and make him the father of one particular Man, the long promised Seed (Gen. 3.15), who would bless all peoples with restoration from their guilty and depraved plight (Gen. 12.3; cf. Gal. 3.16). Of course, nothing short of a share in "heaven itself" is at stake in our own "imitation" of Abraham's faith in God's promises (see Rom. 4).

The same narrative affords Calvin the chance to reflect on the less significant, albeit intriguing, subjects of human slavery, travel/expatriation, and worldly wealth.

Comments on slavery follow from the reference to such in Gen. 12.5: "And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan." According to Calvin, "this is the first mention of servitude" in Scripture. Thus "it appears," he suggests, "that not long after the deluge the wickedness of man caused liberty which, by nature, was common to all, to perish with respect to a great part of mankind."

Calvin spends some time pondering how it came to pass that "a great part of mankind" found their natural freedom forfeit. Two possibilities present themselves: either men were driven to sell themselves into slavery by their own poverty, or the victors in some war "compelled those whom they took in battle to serve them." Regardless, "the order of nature was violently infringed" by the introduction of slavery into human experience," because "men," Calvin opines, "were created for the purpose of cultivating mutual society" -- not servitude -- "between each other." Calvin is not, of course, opposed to positions of authority in society: "It is advantageous that some should preside over others." But slavery, he believes, crosses the line into human oppression and violates the basic "equality" which "ought to have been retained" among men "as among brethren."

Calvin's disapproval of slavery, however, does not lead him to endorse uprisings for those who find themselves victims of it. "Although slavery is contrary to that right government which is most desirable, and in its commencement was not without fault; it does not, on this account, follow, that the use of it, which was afterwards received by custom, and excused by necessity, is unlawful." This claim, of course, goes some way toward vindicating Abraham for having apparently possessed "both servants bought with money, and slaves born in his house." It's probable that Calvin also has an eye towards the apostle Paul's apparent instructions to slaves not to seek freedom through dubious means, but to submit to their masters. However much slavery might constitute a "violent infringement" upon the proper "order of nature," no rebellious corrective to such infringement is warranted.

Calvin's comments on travel and expatriation are more scattered, cropping up at various points where Abraham and family are on the move in the narrative. One gets the impression in reading Calvin's comments here that he was rather uncomfortable with the extent of Abraham's migrations, no matter their divine impetus, and wished to discourage his readers from imitating Abraham's movements in addition to Abraham's faith. Thus Calvin accents the divine word which demanded Abraham's initial exodus from Ur, and notes that Abraham and travelling company "were not impelled by levity" to leave their homeland, "as rash and fickle men are wont to be; nor [were they] drawn to other regions by disgust with their own country, as morose persons frequently are; nor were [they] fugitives on account of crime; nor were [they] led away by any foolish hope, or by allurements, as many are hurried hither and thither by their own desires." Calvin's fairly exhaustive list of inappropriate reasons for leaving one's homeland leaves few valid reasons for doing so beyond, of course, that of (like Abraham) being "divinely commanded to go forth."

Calvin is subsequently eager to make it clear that Abraham's migrations within the Promised Land were fueled by persecution from its Canaanite inhabitants, and ultimately served to orient him towards Heaven, and in no way sprung from his having been bitten by the travel bug. "It is certain that he did not voluntarily, and for his own gratification, run hither and thither (as light-minded persons are wont to do); but there were certain necessities which drove him forth, in order to teach him, by continual habit, that he was not only a stranger, but a wretched wanderer in the land of which he was the lord.... In this respect [Abraham] is very unlike many, who are hurried away, by every slight occasion, to desert their proper calling."

Calvin's comments on prosperity follow Scripture's observation that Abraham, following his exodus from Egypt, was "very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold" (Gen. 13.2). The Reformer capitalizes on this reference to Abraham's apparent wealth to observe "two extremes" which should be avoided in our own thoughts on prosperity. "Many," he observes, "[wrongly] place angelical perfection in poverty; as if it were impossible to cultivate piety and to serve God, unless riches are cast away." Calvin reprimands such "fanatics [who] repel rich men from the hope of salvation, as if poverty were the only gate of heaven," and astutely observes, without further explanation, that poverty "sometimes involves men in more hindrances [to true faith] than riches."

"On the other hand," Calvin notes, "we must beware of the opposite evil; lest riches should cast a stumbling-block in our way, or should so burden us, that we should the less readily advance towards the kingdom of heaven." Calvin's comments on poverty/prosperity demonstrate a good grasp of the truth that it is not wealth (or the lack thereof) per se, but how one deals with wealth, that dictates the degree of difficulty wealth poses to salvation. After all, Scripture names "the love of money," not money itself, as "the root of all evil" (1 Tim. 6.10), and Paul encourages his readers to imitate him in learning contentment (and, presumably, every other virtue) whether they discover themselves "living in plenty or in want" (Phil. 4.12).

In the end, Calvin's comments on slavery, travel/expatriation, and prosperity are more connected than they might seem, and more connected to the main theme of divine promises and human faith in this biblical passage than they might seem. There is an emphasis in Calvin's comments on each of these subjects upon accepting one's station and place in this life, and -- like Abraham -- setting one's sights upon the Heavenly Canaan that God still promises his children. Whether one finds himself slave or free, Spanish or French, scraping the bottom of the barrel or minted, he shouldn't chiefly busy himself with reconfiguring his earthly portion, but with fulfilling his duties, wherever God has placed him, in humble but confident hope of a heavenly inheritance that will render all earthly circumstances and stations deplorable by comparison. Such resignation, as it were, to one's place and station in life might prove a hard pill to swallow to present-day persons who are regularly sold (and regularly purchase) the gospel of self-reinvention which the modern world peddles. But Calvin's advice, as usual, might have merit.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

The Christian traveller

While immensely thankful for the benefits of modern travel, there are elements of it that are not in the first rank of Walker enjoyments. I tend toward dislike of the experience of being herded and managed, with even the temperature of the environment sometimes being adjusted in order to prompt appropriate dispositions. And there are, of course, those elements of being in confined spaces with a bundle of other sinners which tend to prompt more carnal reactions.

And so it was with that combination of weariness and amusement that I surveyed the departure lounge at Newark airport a few days ago on my way home from a delightful time of fellowship and ministry. All human life, if not quite there, was certainly well on the way to being healthily represented. Looking about me, I was struck by the prominent ways and means in words and in deeds by which various of my fellow wanderers were proclaiming their personal identity and spiritual allegiance.

There were Orthodox Jews, the coats and hats and hair raising their flags of affiliation. There were flamboyant metrosexuals, all pastel shades and skinny jeans and overcooked poses. There were the Disgruntled, those sour-faced regular travellers who can predict - and do, to anyone who makes eye contact - all that will be slow or go wrong with frightening accuracy. There were Hindu ladies, their dress and make-up speaking of their commitments. Sikhs and Muslims rubbed shoulders in their religious uniforms. There were the Angry, like the chap who uttered a string of distinctly audible curses for a good ten or fifteen minutes after being subjected to a patdown, making sure that we all know that we are in the presence of Those Not To Be Messed With. There were the extravagant homosexuals, all loud giggles and shouty comments, hyper-camping for the benefit of those around them. Here are the Nervous, who do not know where to go or what to do, agitated and antsy, asking everyone the same questions repeatedly. Over there are the languid Rich, dressed up to the nines, oozing through the crowds and the barriers when the call goes out for the privileged few who get to enter the flying can ten minutes or so before the rest of us. Make way, too, for the harried and active Rich, in their well-cut suits and with their high-end luggage, rushing from their last lucre-producing meeting to their next one, and trampling all who are in their path. Over there is that decorated beast, the Tattooed Brit, looking for all the world like a thug of the first water, but possibly one of the most pleasant and cheerful individuals who will board the pla . . . no, my mistake, it was the thug version. Watch out for the Gorgeous Woman, who has gone to more effort for this flight than most would for their wedding days, dressed and manipulated from head to toe to catch the male eye. There is our New Age Friend, burdened by weighty beads and floaty veils, rainbow hues no doubt fending off all manner of ethereal bad news. You begin to wonder what the social media footprint of the gathering might be, as heat and hunger and the passing of time begin to prompt increasing agitation, what vapid online meanderings or noxious electronic effluent rises from the horde as we sit and wait.

All of which fascinating tableau left me asking, "By what means should I, as a Christian traveller, communicate my personal identity and spiritual allegiance?" I could, as a start, do some airport-lounge preaching, but I am not sure that it is the right environment, and the polite though armed gentlemen in the smart white shirts and blue trousers tend to look down on that kind of thing. The age-old device of carrying a Bible larger than a cabin bag is trickier in these days of electronic reading. To the casual observer, I would imagine I don't look that much different to most of the other reasonably-dressed male travellers (I add that little adjectival qualification for those of you who don't realise how much I can charge the general public not to see me wearing skinny jeans), and the same would be true of most Christians, I imagine. The prominent wearing of crosses is not my thing, neither would I normally go down the emblazoned garment line, as if "by their T-shirts you shall know them." Conversations of deliberately-penetrating volume with a fellow-believer are contrived, as would be kneeling for prayer or praying out loud (too much like the Pharisee on the street corner). And then there's the question of social media comment: is it a Christian response to offer a stream of bilious bleatings or caustic comments on the situation and its participants?

I wonder, though, if the starting point ought to be character, attitude translating into action. It might not immediately declare you to be a true disciple, it might only open the door to speak to one or two people, but it should be the bedrock of our testimony. In the mix with all the variety of my fellow-passengers, and regardless of their identities and affiliations, am I marked out by patience in the face of provocations, cheerfulness despite difficulties, politeness in the experience of frustrations, thankfulness in the receipt of blessings, responsiveness when entreated, helpfulness around the overwhelmed or incompetent, self-forgetfulness in the atmosphere of entitlement, peacemaking among the argumentative, kindness around the selfish, candour among the sniping, calmness in the face of danger, self-control in a place of indulgence, graciousness among the godless, and even prayerfulness when confronted by needs and concerns? If I have the opportunity - if, perhaps, by these means I win the opportunity - am I then equally forthright, simple, clear and winsome in explaining, as the Lord grants opportunity, my attachment to the Lord Christ?

There is no flamboyance here, no extravagant or overblown trumpeting of one's Christian identity. However, there may and should be a real communication of a genuine and distinctive spirit of one who is following after Christ Jesus. Do those who spend time with us under these and other such circumstances come away not simply with a sense of our niceness (although that may be part of it) but of a character elevated by something more substantial than the fancies of the world or the claims of false religion?

So, the next time you face a journey by plane, train or automobile (other modes of transport are available) and anticipate a prolonged period in close company with your fellow mortals, perhaps it would be worth asking yourself whether or not your demeanour, disposition and deeds will leave those with whom you have come into contact with a savour of Christ. We should cultivate a personal identity so rooted in him and a spiritual affiliation so governed by him that, if people know his name, there might at least be some sense in which they might take notice of us, that we have been with Jesus.