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Seeing the 'dazzling theater'

Calvin Jubilee speaker kicks off conference celebrating 500th birthday

July 13, 2009

Cynthia Rigby

Cynthia Rigby —Bethany Furkin

Montreat, N.C.

John Calvin, credited as the father of Reformed tradition, said that the glory of God is unfathomable, but its evidence is everywhere, impossible to miss, a leading Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) theologian said here July 8.

This “dazzling theater” of the world was the focus of the opening lecture of the Calvin Jubilee here, celebrating Calvin’s 500th birthday.

Cynthia Rigby, W.C. Brown Professor of Theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, encouraged attendees to consider the setting of Montreat Conference Center when thinking about the wonder of God’s work.

“Look at the mountains surrounding Montreat and whisper a word of thanks to God, who has claimed us,” she said in her lecture, “Calvin and the Wondrous Glory of God.”

According to Calvin, humans cannot fully appreciate the omnipresence of God’s glory because of their “total depravity.” To get to this glory, humans need assistance — and that comes in the form of Jesus Christ. For modern American Christians, this idea of putting faith in God and seeing “total depravity” as the source of the world’s suffering is a relatively simple concept to accept.

Calvin said that humans cannot work alone, but he isn’t putting them down. As Calvin saw it, sin is an aberration, and God made humans to be better than that, Rigby said. Sin interferes with humans’ ability to enjoy the beautiful world God has provided.

It’s commonly said that we make time for what’s important to us, Rigby said, adding that what we make time for — like work or careers — can take us away from enjoying God’s “theater.”

God made the world for us to interact with, and it’s important to enjoy God’s creation for its own sake instead of solely focusing on the end results, Rigby said.
“Calvin talked about enjoying food, enjoying fellowship,” she said.

But Calvin also saw a “problem” with God’s total glory, Rigby said. For Calvin, there were two major truths that are irreconcilable: how does God hold the all of creation in God’s hand while also being the shepherd who goes after the lone sheep?

“God is all in all, and calls us one by one,” Rigby said.
That gap of God being everything and caring for the individual creates a tension, and that tension is where Calvin often worked, Rigby said. In looking at God’s sovereignty, we are both challenged and assured. We realize that we are not God, and that God has to do with everything.

Calvin wanted humans to enjoy the theater of the world, but also to participate in it and take a place on the stage, Rigby said.

Quoting Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 104:31, Rigby told the audience that we “are not only to be spectators in this beautiful theater but to enjoy the vast bounty and variety of good things which are displayed to us in it.”

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