Christian faith has a push and pull. The former compels us to move away from an existence that is grounded in one’s self; the latter consists in the magnetic pull toward God’s beauty and grace. In what follows, we will consider examples of each, starting with the push that comes from our idolatry.
Protestant Reformer John Calvin (1509 – 1564) was convinced that the human mind is a veritable “factory of idols.” This sinful impulse manifests itself even within the Church, which is semper reformanda—always needing renewal according to God’s Word. In the following quotation from his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559),1 Calvin alerts God’s people to their fascination with and weakness for idols, and so too the need for vigilance. Christians must continually scrutinize their hearts and minds, checking against God’s Word what they find within.
[M]an’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. After the Flood there was a sort of rebirth of the world, but not many years passed by before men were fashioning gods according to their pleasure . . . Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.
To these evils a new wickedness joins itself, that man tries to express in his work the sort of God he has inwardly conceived. Therefore the mind begets an idol; the hand gives it birth. The example of the Israelites shows the origin of idolatry to be that men do not believe God is with them unless he shows himself physically present.2
If the push toward faith is something that God graciously provides by revealing our idolatry problem, he also does so through a definite pull. This activity is manifested in countless ways, for God’s beauty and grace are without limit. If we were able to somehow distill these blessings, we would perhaps describe it with the words “redemptive love.” God loves us to such an extent that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. It is this reality that breaks the bond of sin and draws us to our Savior. Speaking about the need of humanity to obtain this love, John Donne gives expression to our deepest desire in the following prayer:
Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new. . . .
Yet dearly I love You and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto Your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again;
Take me to You, imprison me, for I
Except You enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.
Holy Sonnett XIV
1For an online version of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, visit: http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/institutes/.
2 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 108. In other translations, see: Book 1, Chapter 11, Section 8.