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From lonely child to family man

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." 1 John 4.18

While Luther sang hymns to fortify his stand against the devil, Calvin chanted Psalms to warm himself against the coldness of the human heart. Understanding Calvin requires recognises the context of fear and rejection out of which her operated and from which he speaks to us today. Losing his mother at a young age and being raised by a remote and unstable father almost certainly contributed to his low self-esteem and personal timidity. Living most of his life as a refugee in Geneva not only enable him to identify with the fellow refugees to whom he ministered but it secured his self understanding of being an earthly pilgrim, whose yearning for home was only going to be satisfied in the providence of God.

Scottish-American theologian Julie Canlis directs our attention to three rare autobiographical glimpses which appear in Calvin's writings. The first, written in 1534 soon after his conversion at the age of 23, defines hell as the inheritance of abandonment and alienation. Five years later, in 1539, Calvin has learned to channel his instinctive terror towards fear of the Lord, whose love (not Calvin's own) assuages his angst. 18 years later in 1557, at the relatively mature age of 48, Calvin speaks more confidently and positively about faith and his navigation through life. It is his relationship with the Psalms which appears to have made the difference.

In David he found a soul-mate and in the Psalms of David he found an anatomy of the soul which more than complemented the contemporary scientific advances which were laying bare the mysteries of our physical make-up. Through the Psalms this intensely private individual found the means of expressing the whole gamut of emotions to cope with the whole range of human experiences. It added to Calvin's doctrinal conviction an emotional dimension, so that God was not just to be feared/ respected as Judge but embraced/ loved as Father. The key of course is Jesus, whose death and resurrection invite us into that redeemed relationship, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the door through which we enter, Communion is the source of our nourishment as we gather around God's table in fellowship and communion.

According to Calvin, providence and predestination are the Christian's own bulwarks against a hostile world. Confidence that God has "the whole world in his hands" and will resolve all things in favour of those who trust him. And the reassurance of being personally welcomed into God's presence and future for those who may feel rejected by the world. A message of hope for a society in turmoil...



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