By Laurie Haas
Calvin holds those in public office in high esteem. He even categorizes it as a “calling.” “Accordingly, no one ought to doubt that civil authority is a calling, not only holy and lawful before God, but also the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men.” (Institutes XX, 4, p. 1490) He uses Romans as a foundation saying that there are no powers except for those ordained by God. (Romans 13:1)
I can agree that power comes from God, just as all that we are comes from God. However, in our brokenness, I’m afraid we misuse and abuse power in many ways that God would not or could not condone. For an extreme example, consider Hitler. He was a charismatic, powerful leader. We do not worship a God who would create a monster like Hitler to teach us a lesson. I believe that Hitler acted on his own free will out of a dark sinful place when he systematically began to murder millions of Jewish people. I’m not sure how reformed that thought is…)
Out of that rubble, God lifted up the voices of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Elie Wiesel and Viktor Frankl, just to name a few.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'Ye were bought at a price', and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
Elie Wiesel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I believe that these giants have inspired and touched an exponential number of lives above and beyond the lives lost. Yet that still would not justify Hitler’s actions nor have God cheering in his corner. I believe all three of these victims would have a very difficult time buying into Calvin’s claim that wicked rulers should be obeyed and that God was the mastermind behind them, teaching us a lesson.
In Section 22, I think that Calvin is coming around to a more reasonable view as he talks about how honor is due to the office, and not the person, who may be unworthy. This makes sense, as we would have complete chaos if we didn’t have rules, rulers and order. However, Calvin loses me again when he says in section 25 of book 4, Chapter XX that the wicked ruler is a judgment of God. He cites Old Testament passages which is consistent with how they understood bad things happening in those ancient times. Today, however, we have to look at everything through the lens of Christ and to continue to apply our knowledge and understanding to situations.
How do you find and use your voice against injustice or unworthy leaders, while remaining connected to Christ?