26 November 2010

The Vanity of this Life

Whatever kind of tribulation we may suffer, this should always be our goal: to learn contempt for the present life, and thus be led to meditate on the life to come. ...Our folly comes from the fact that our minds are more or less dazzled by the false glitter of wealth, honour and power, which are superficially attractive and which stop us looking further ahead. By the same token our heart is full of greed, ambition, and other evil desires, and is held so fast by them that it cannot look higher up. Lastly, our entire soul seeks its happiness here on earth, because it is wrapped and entangled in the pleasures of the flesh.

To remedy this evil, the Lord teaches his servants to recognize the vanity of this present life, carefully training them by means of various afflictions. Lest they look forward in this life to peace and tranquility, he allows war, turmoil, theft and other evils to upset and trouble them. Lest they thirst too much  for ephemeral wealth or trust too fondly n the wealth they have, he reduces them to poverty, sometimes by sending barrenness to the earth, sometimes by fire, sometimes by other means; or else he condemns them to bare sufficiency. Lest they delight too much in marriage, he gives them difficult or headstrong wives who torment them, or wayward children to humble them, or else afflicts them with the loss of spouse or children. If, however, in all these things he treats them kindly, to stop them becoming proud in their conceit and complacent through excessive confidence, he warns them by means of sickness or peril, and gives them as it were visible proof of how fragile and fleeting are the good things we enjoy, since they are subject to decay.

Thus the discipline of the cross is of great benefit to us when we understand that the present life, judged in itself, is full of worry, trouble and much misfortune. It is never completely happy at any time, and all the blessings we hold dear are transitory and uncertian, trifling and tinged with endless misery. The conclusion we draw then, is that here we must expect nothing but conflict. If we would seek  our crown, it is to heaven that we must look. We may be sure that our heart will never really learn to want the life to come, and to meditate on i, without first feeling disdain for this earhly life. (From A Guide to Christian Living by John Calvin, translated by Robert White, Banner of Truth, pgs. 87-91.)

This passage from John Calvin has helped more than many others to understand our place here on earth and the afflictions we all encounter. I hope it helps you as well.

No comments: