Blog 118: 3.8.11 - 3.9.4
Christians are not the only ones who have discussed the virtue of patience. But what distinguishes biblical teaching from that of the philosophers is the grand sense of purpose and design.
Granted pagan philosophers at times saw that affliction tests us--but to what glorious end? By contrast the Christian sees in affliction both the righteousness of God (I deserve affliction) and the purpose of God (suffering leads to glory; affliction has a purpose in the divine economy for my salvation).
Only this perspective, says Calvin, can bring a truly quiet and thankful mind. But there is more--for Calvin always has surprises for those who have mis-read him: "thanksgiving can come forth only from a cheerful and happy heart." May we say, on this basis, that Calvinism--which claim to point firmly to the biblical basis for thankfulness--is always meant to produce cheerful and happy Christians. What else?
But the patient believer is so because he has a radically different perspective on life, or, we might say, on death. Looking to the glorious future promised to him in the gospel he learns to disdain the present life by comparison.
This is far from Stoicism, for it is the disposition of the person who has a "cheerful and happy heart." Rather it is the perspective of the person who has seen through the dazzle of this world's riches and recognized that they are empty. Look at life through the lenses of its innumerable miseries and we realize we live in Vanity Fair. This is not a world of final happiness--for the simple reason it is not the final world on which the believer sets his sights.
Calvin speaks about "contempt" for the present world. Is that not too strong? Certainly some have thought so. But perhaps they have never stood on the same ground as Calvin as they have assessed this world:
"If heaven is our homeland, what else is the earth but our place of exile?
What indeed? Wise words from a man who spent more than half his life in exile!