Compassion in Calvin

Joshua Torrey comments
| Faith

Newton’s Third Law of motion is succulently stated as “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Nowhere may this law be found truer than in the internet age of arguments and debates. Each “action” of reply, quote-retweet, or subtweet creates an equally potent response. Of the surplus of notifications there is no end.

With those who deny absolute truth and those who affirm absolute truth slaughtering their tens of thousands, many are consumed by a constant battle online for truth. Reformed believers, in particular, tend to be associated with these internet battles. More “cage state” jokes are made about believers holding to Calvinism than almost all other theologies combined. Their battle fronts are legion.

Somewhere lost in the shuffle of our internet scuffles is the battle for compassion. Compassion exemplified by Christ means seeing each other through the eyes of God. Without compassion, our debates and arguing are fueled more by our concern for ourselves and not for our neighbor. Addressing this subject P&R published Joshua Mack's Compassion: Seeing with Jesus' Eyes (Review from Torrey Gazette). In that small booklet, Mack includes a small portion of a poignant quote from John Calvin. Speaking quite broadly on the idea of ministering to others and self-denial Calvin wrote,

"Say that he is unworthy of your least exertion on his account; but the image of God, by which he is recommended to you, is worthy of yourself and all your exertions. But if he not only merits no good, but has provoked you by injury and mischief, still this is no good reason why you should not embrace him in love, and visit him with offices of love. He has deserved very differently from me, you will say. But what has the Lord deserved? Whatever injury he has done you, when he enjoins you to forgive him, he certainly means that it should be imputed to himself. In this way only we attain to what is not to say difficult but altogether against nature, to love those that hate us, render good for evil, and blessing for cursing, remembering that we are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them." - Calvin, Institutes III.VII.VI

The depth of importance concerning the image of God is refreshing in Calvin. He truly represents the best of humanism when he states that focus on this image — present in all men — "cover[s] and obliterate[s] their faults." The fountainhead of “Calvinism” should be the very voice heard most clearly. How different the Christian witness online (and in our local communities) would be if were "not to reflect on the wickedness of men." This is not to lay down in the rampage of sin. This is not to ignore truth. But it is to be a sufficient respecter of the foulest of persons for the ministry of the gospel no matter the "injury and mischief."

It is the image of God (not election, salvation, or theology) that should cover and obliterate the faults we see when ministering to others. And it is the value of God's image that should draw us closer to all our neighbors in an effort “to love and embrace them.” Not for some socialistic paradise. Not as an opiate to social discord. But to recognize the image of God in others that can be restored by the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Joshua Torrey

Joshua is a computer engineer by day and reader/blogger by night. He has written a couple books no one has read and is indoctrinating his children to cheer for Pittsburgh sports teams.

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