Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Calvin: Predestination, Providence, Capitalism, Church and State, Biblical Authority.

We finished Friday with, the general ideas of Calvin on providence, the tremendously powerful way in which he looks at the Divine activity in everything in every moment, and directing it. If this is the presupposition; if we almost have the feeling that Calvin approaches a kind of Divine determinism, then we must ask the question, “How is all this related to the actuality of evil?” We can distinguish different answers.

The suffering of the world is not a real problem for Calvin. Since his first principle is the honor of God, he can show that human suffering is l)a natural consequence of the distorted, sinful world; 2) a way of bringing the elect to God; 3) a way to show His holiness in the punishment of a distorted world.

Physical evil is taken partly as a natural consequence, partly as educational means, partly as punishment for sin. But this does not solve the problem of moral evil. Here Calvin must accept, and tries to show that the evil acts of Satan and of evil men are determined by God’s counsel. Even Pilate and Nebuchadnezzar are servants of God.

God blinds the minds and hardens the hearts of men; He puts an evil spirit into their heart. “For God, as Augustine says, fulfills His righteous will by the wicked wills of wicked men.: Augustine declares that He creates light and darkness, that He forms good and evil, and that no evil occurs which He has not performed.” Such statements which seem to make God the cause of evil, are understandable only if we understand what Calvin says, that the world is “the theater of .the Divine glory.” In the scene which we call “the world,” God shows His glory. In order to do this, He causes evil, even moral evil. Calvin says: to think that God admits evil because of freedom, is frivolous. Because God acts in everything that goes on; the evil man follows the will of God although he does not follow His command. By following His will they defy His command, and that makes them guilty.

Now this means that Calvin’s idea of providence is strictly God – causes – I don’t say “determined,” but “God-caused.” And if, as he realizes, some people feel that this is not what we can say about God, and that this kind of providence is a horrible thing, then he answers, “Ignorance of providence is the greatest of miseries; the knowledge of it is attended with the highest felicity.: The belief in providence liberates us from anxiety, dread, and care. This period, at the end of the Middle Ages, was one of catastrophes and transformations, externally, and of profound anxiety internally. The doctrine of providence in Calvin is not an abstract one but is a doctrine which is supposed to heal anxiety, to be able to give courage, and for this reason he praises it.