Part 4 of a 4 part series. View series intro and index.
John Calvin believed in a God that blesses us so that we might rejoice. God does this because he is a loving, joyful, happy Shepherd of his people. Calvin puts it like this:
We ought to bear in mind, that our happiness consists in this, that his hand is stretched forth to govern us, that we live under his shadow, and that his providence keeps watch and ward over our welfare. Although, therefore, we have abundance of all temporal good things, yet let us be assured that we cannot be truly happy unless God vouchsafe to reckon us among the number of his flock. Besides, we then only attribute to God the office of a Shepherd with due and rightful honor, when we are persuaded that his providence alone is sufficient to supply all our necessities. As those who enjoy the greatest abundance of outward good things are empty and famished if God is not their shepherd; so it is beyond all doubt that those whom he has taken under his charge shall not want a full abundance of all good things.
This shows us that Calvin did not believe in a stale, dark, theoretical Christianity where God is unhappy, vengeful, and impersonal. Quite the opposite actually. God is a good Father, Calvin taught. Commenting on Ephesians 3:21, he says, “However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.”
All of creation, Calvin said, was made by God to cause happiness: “There is not one little blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make men rejoice.” Furthermore, Calvin taught that prayer is a divine avenue to our happiness. He encouraged his people by saying, “Joy and thanksgiving expressed in prayer and praise according to the Word of God are the heart of the Church’s worship.”
Did you catch that? Joy and thanksgiving are the heart of the Church’s worship. Calvin’s belief in God was anything but boring, lifeless, and cerebral. It was heavily theological — make no mistake. But at his core, John Calvin was a pastor, not an academic theologian. He was a shepherd of a local flock, and he was intensely practical. His desire was to show people the God of the Bible, not conjured up deity. His passion was to make plain that this God transforms daily life and causes worship to move from meaningless existence into everlasting joy in the greatest Being in the universe.