Christian faith involves a push and pull. The former compels us to move away from an identity that is grounded in one’s self; the latter consists in the magnetic pull toward God’s beauty and grace. In what follows, we will consider examples of each, starting with the push that comes from our idolatry.
Sixteenth century Reformer John Calvin (1509 – 1564) was convinced that the human mind is a veritable “factory of idols.” For this reason the church is semper reformanda—always reforming according to God’s Word. In the following quotation from his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559),1 Calvin alerts God’s people to our fascination with and weakness for idols, and so too the need for vigilance. Christians must continually scrutinize our hearts and minds, checking against God’s Word what we find within.
[M]an’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. After the Flood there was a sort of rebirth of the world, but not many years passed by before men were fashioning gods according to their pleasure . . . Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.
To these evils a new wickedness joins itself, that man tries to express in his work the sort of God he has inwardly conceived. Therefore the mind begets an idol; the hand gives it birth. The example of the Israelites shows the origin of idolatry to be that men do not believe God is with them unless he shows himself physically present.2
If the push toward faith is something that God graciously provides by revealing our idolatry problem, he also does so through an attractional pull. This activity is manifested in countless ways, for God’s beauty and grace are without limit. If we were to somehow distill these blessings, we might describe it with the words “redemptive love.” Speaking about the compelling beauty of this love, Christina Rossetti writes the following (from the perspective of Jesus):
Who else had dared for thee what I have dared?
I plunged the depth most deep from bliss above;
I not My flesh, I not My spirit spared:
Give thou Me love for love.
For thee I thirsted in the daily drouth,
For thee I trembled in the nightly frost:
Much sweeter thou than honey to My mouth:
Why wilt thou still be lost?
I bore thee on My shoulders and rejoiced:
Men only marked upon My shoulders borne
The branding cross; and shouted hungry-voiced,
Or wagged their heads in scorn.
Thee did nails grave upon My hands, thy name
Did thorns for frontlets stamp between Mine eyes:
I, Holy One, put on thy guilt and shame;
I, God, Priest, Sacrifice.
A thief upon My right hand and My left;
Six hours alone, athirst, in misery:
At length in death one smote My heart and cleft
A hiding-place for thee.
Nailed to the racking cross, than bed of down
More dear, whereon to stretch Myself and sleep:
So did I win a kingdom,—share my crown;
A harvest,—come and reap.
1For an online version of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, visit: http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/institutes/.
2 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 108. In other translations, see: Book 1, Chapter 11, Section 8.