Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Teach Us To Be Astronomers

He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered? Which removeth the mountains, and they know not: which overturneth them in his anger. Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble. Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars. Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea. Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south. Which doeth great things past finding out; yea, and wonders without number. (Job 9.4-10)

John Calvin, Sermons on Job (Chap. 9, v. 7), p. 157 (modernized spelling):

Let us mark well that Job's intent here is to teach us to be astronomers, so far as our capacity will bear it.

The Calvinist is one who is truly humbled, like the Psalmist in Psalm 8, at the insignificance of man, who nevertheless is so loved by the Eternal One, that He sent His only beloved Son to die for sinners, even me, the chief of all sinners. As B.B. Warfield wrote when describing Calvinism: "it lies in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature" (B.B. Warfield, "Calvinism: The Meaning and Uses of the Term," in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 5, p. 354). And nothing is more humbling than looking up at the night sky and considering one's place in the universe and in relation to the Creator of all.

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Ps. 8.3-4)

Auguste Lecerf, An Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 384-385:

To-day, since we are Copernicans, who locate the sun in the centre of the solar system, we are apt to consider the centre as the privileged place. We speak, moreover, of theocentrism, anthropocentrism, and of questions of central importance, and are tempted to attribute to the ancients our manner of viewing things. As it is certain that, with few exceptions, they thought the earth to be at the centre of the universe, we attribute this geocentrism to a disproportionate view which we suppose them to have entertained concerning the importance of man.

Nothing could be more false....

Calvinism was, however, in the 16th century, as it is to-day; more than ever, geocentric in the modern sense of believing Copernicans: the earth is sufficiently at the centre of the divine plan to have been the theatre of the Incarnation and Crucifixion of the Son of God. But it is precisely here that we see the superiority of Calvinism over the Wesleyan Arminianism towards which some are looking. If the earth is, in God's view, a privileged planet; if, for Him, man is the most excellent of creatures, it is not on account of the local situation of this globe in the universe, nor by reason of the intrinsic dignity of this "lord of creation". The importance and the value of these creatures are due solely to the gratuitous election of God, who chooses the vile and base things of the world to confound the mighty.
We have never found a trace of this cosmic conflict among Calvinistic thinkers. Their leader, far from experiencing it, wished that all Christians could be astronomers,1 and never tired, in his preaching, of dilating on the immensity of the works of God. This, because he who believes in the infinite God never feels himself to be alone, however vast the universe may be.

1 34th Sermon on Job, ix, 4-15.

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