The following is an excerpt from Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology, by Daniel Brunner, Jennifer Butler, and A. J. Swoboda.
John Calvin’s (1509–1564) theological work on Creation represents, according to Anna Case-Winters, “a rich and too seldom consulted resource for any who work at a Christian theology of nature. . . . In Calvin’s theology, God has a relation to all of creation not just to human beings.”
Calvin’s doctrine of Creation was rooted firmly in his understanding of God’s providence: God is wholly faithful to the created order of the universe. An anxious relationship between Creation and providence was an increasingly prominent theme in Calvin’s writing.
To Calvin, God’s natural order is fragile and fearful: “All the fierce animals you see are armed for your destruction. But if you try to shut yourself up in a walled garden, seemingly delightful, there a serpent sometimes lies hidden. . . . Amid these tribulations must not man be most miserable, since, but half alive in life, he weakly draws his anxious and languid breath, as if he had a sword perpetually hanging over his neck?”
Reading these words from his Institutes one gains a sense of why providence was so central to Calvin’s theology. Only reliance on divine providence can set a person free from the chaos and angst of the created world.
Creation might be terrifying, but it is also “the theater of God’s glory.” Calvin zealously scorned any human-made image of God, and yet his love for the created wonders of God’s hand has led one interpreter to refer to him as “the creation-intoxicated theologian.”
In a striking passage, Calvin writes that “this skillful ordering of the universe is for us a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God, who is the otherwise invisible.” For Calvin, Christians are invited to look into the mirror of the natural world and reflect on the providence, attributes, vastness, and purposes of God.
©2014 by Daniel L. Brunner, Jennifer L. Butler, and A. J. Swoboda. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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