The Most Beautiful Theater

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One of my great teachers, Henry Stob, a longtime Calvin Seminary professor, never tired of reminding his students that Jesus Christ came to save humans from sin, not from creation. He himself learned that truth from one of his great teachers, John Calvin.

Stob so admired Calvin that during his entire seminary career he mentored a student club that met weekly to discuss Calvin's classic treatise, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. It was in that group that I learned how important it is, both theologically and practically, to keep the lines clear between the doctrines of creation and of sin. Doing so can help believers, despite sin's scarring effects, still see the created world for what it really is: God's sheer good gift to be enjoyed, to be thankful for, and to be treated with delicate care.

Calvin calls the world God made a "most beautiful theater." In something of a "hymn to creation's Maker," he becomes lyrical: "[W]herever we cast our eyes, all things [we] meet are works of God and display his glory and goodness. The first part [of our appropriate response to God] is exemplified when we reflect upon the greatness of the Artificer who stationed, arranged, and fitted together the starry host of heaven in such wonderful order that nothing more beautiful in appearance can be imagined. . . . Indeed, if we chose to explain in a fitting manner how God's inestimable wisdom, power, justice, and goodness shine forth in the fashioning of the universe, no splendor, no ornament of speech, would be equal to an act of such great magnitude. . . . For there are as many miracles of divine power, as many tokens of goodness, and as many proofs of divine wisdom, as there are kinds of things in the universe . . . either great or small” (Institutes, I.xiv.20-21).

We are stewards of what God has given us, and God calls us to care well for what we've received from his generous hand. As Calvin says, "The earth was given to man, with this condition, that he should occupy himself in its cultiva-tion. . . . The custody of the garden was given in charge to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition that, being content with the frugal and moderate use of them, we should take care of what shall remain. Let him who possesses a field so partake of its yearly fruits that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence, but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated. . . . Moreover, that this economy . . . with respect to those good things which God has given us to enjoy, may flourish among us, let everyone regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses. Then he will neither conduct himself dissolutely, nor corrupt by abuse those things which God requires to be preserved" (Calvin, Commentary on Genesis).

God's human creatures are the apex of God's creation, says Calvin. Of all God's creatures, only humans can take conscious delight in the creation and then say thanks. Calvin calls this twin activity taking "pious delight." To be fully human and fully alive, then, means that at every day's beginning we set our sights on being open to wonder—and to surprise! And at day's end, having spotted these gifts and reveled in them, we summon our spirits to sing the doxology and bless our God with glad and joyful hearts.

To go at life in dull boredom is sin against God. On the contrary, to cultivate delight and gratitude is a crowning gift we can offer God in return.

FOR DISCUSSION:

  1. When astronauts witnessed the very first “earthrise” seen by humans and saw our planet hanging like a jewel in the black void, they called it “the good earth.” Is it?

  2. If this world is such a good place, then why are there natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis? Are these all the result of sin?

  3. What do you know about our universe that makes you marvel at God’s greatness?

  4. What does it mean that God created us as stewards of the creation? How do we fulfill that mandate? How should we?

  5. Why is it important for us to delight in God’s creation? Why is it a sin “to go at life in dull boredom”?


About the Author

Rev. Dale Cooper is chaplain emeritus of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich. The Banner thanks him for writing a special series this year on highlights from John Calvin’s teaching.