“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction.
Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Ourselves Are Connected
Wisdom—if it’s any good—has two parts: knowledge of God and ourselves. Now, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are tied together. In fact, they are tied so closely together, it’s actually pretty hard to know which one comes first. For example, let’s say that you start thinking about yourself. Well, as soon as you start doing that, you will probably begin thinking about God soon. Why? Because everything we have—things like our intelligence, emotions, and will—can’t come from ourselves. Those things must come from God alone. Furthermore, everything we have is like a stream leading us back to the source of the water. Only those things lead us to God.
We also see this dynamic of knowing God and ourselves at work when we reflect on God’s goodness. When we understand more of God’s goodness, then we see more clearly how evil and morally impoverished we are. Particularly, our miserable sinful state—which is a result of Adam’s Fall in the Garden—forces us to look upward, toward God. When we look to God, we ask for Him to meet our needs. When we look to God, we actually become fearful (because of our sin) and learn humility—we are not God.
All people have some knowledge of God. Even sinners, which all people are, have some knowledge of God. As sinners, a bunch of truly terrible things exist in us. We once had “divine clothing” on before we sinned, but since the Fall, we’ve been stripped naked and shamed. When a sinner reflects on how bad things are, he becomes unhappy and this unhappiness is a signal to him that a good God exists. He sees his ignorance, pride, lack of blessing, and weakness. In short, when he sees his utter depravity and corruption, this reminds him that goodness, wisdom, and virtue exist only in God, and no one else.
These bad things in us force to acknowledge the goodness of God. In fact, we can’t even desire to get to know God until we “hate” ourselves. Because, don’t we all want to be totally self-reliant? Don’t people stay self-reliant as long as they are ignorant of their weaknesses and content with their own piddly “strengths”?
To sum it up: every person who comes to know himself is not only energized to seek God out, but will also find Him. God takes us by the hand through knowledge of ourselves and walks us toward Him.