Blog 6: 1.1.1 - 1.2.1
January 12, 2009
Calvin's Institutes opens with a strikingly important sentence--crafted first by a young man in his mid-twenties and only fine tuned between its first appearance in 1536 and its final expression a few years before his death. Wisdom--the knowledge coupled with practical understanding and piety that is the underlying concern of the entire project--involves knowing God and knowing ourselves. Truly to know ourselves we need to know God; come to know God and at last we see ourselves in our true context.
The thought--as commentators on the Institutes point out--is not entirely original. But its roots (as they do not always note) go way beyond the Augustinian tradition of theology, to the opening chapter of the Bible. God made man as his image (Gen. 1:26). Our creation, our very being, is defined by that relationship to him. Living makes sense and gives joy only when we live out that relationship before him. So the question "What is man?" must be answered by a sentence that has a reference to God in it.
When, in the pursuit of the project of the self, we a priori exclude the person of God we not only cut ourselves off from knowing him, but from knowing ourselves. The project ends in frustration. Fulfilled life requires that we know God in Jesus Christ (Jn 17:3). By implication, exclude him and we lose all sense of proportion. For when we measure ourselves by ourselves we turn out to be the ideal height! But when we are persuaded that God is the fountain of every good, and we seek and find him (or are found by him), then, says Calvin, we begin to taste "complete happiness."
Only then will we gladly give ourselves to the Lord. Isn't that the truth!