This We Believe: Second Helvetic Confession, part III

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This week we look and chapters 6 and 7 of the Second Helvetic Confession, which talk about Providence and God’s Creation.

The word “providence” is often misunderstood. Think of the word “provide” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it means, though–providence is about God’s providing. Throughout scripture we see God providing, being there, and governing us with God’s goodness. Psalm 139 tells us that God is in all places and there is nowhere we can get away from God’s presence, and God knows us even before we are born and knows us before we speak. Acts 17.28 says “in him we live and move and have our being.” Romans 11.36 says “from him and through him and to him are all things.”

But Providence does not mean that God controls things and moves us around like pawns on a chessboard, and it does not mean that we just have to sit back and relax and not do anything. It is at the root of Jesus’ command to not worry, but not worrying and not doing anything are not the same thing! God has given us each a calling, work to do, and we are not to ignore that work. “Wherefore we disapprove of the rash statements of those who say that if all things are managed by the providence of God, then our efforts and endeavors are in vain…” The confession also talks about the difference between chance or fate and providence, essentially saying there’s no chance, because “God has appointed to everything its end (purpose), has ordained the beginning and the means by which it reaches its goal. The heathen ascribe things to blind fortune and uncertain chance.” Interestingly, the confession doesn’t give a succinct definitely of providence. What are some examples of God’s providing, God’s guiding hand? What do you think is meant by the idea of Providence?

Related to the idea of God’s providing grace is that “almighty God created all things, both visible and invisible, by his co-eternal Word, and preserves them by his co-eternal Spirit.” And God saw that it was good, and very good! Because of this, we know that there is not a dichotomy between flesh and spirit, between created and sacred, or even between good and evil. Some people have thought that there must be two gods, one creating good and the other evil, but here we affirm that God, who is good, created all things. If God is the Creator, then by definition God has provided. And if God continues to be a Creator, if that is part of who God is (see last week’s section!), then God must still continue to provide for the creation. As the psalmist says, “the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” Throughout the psalms and indeed throughout scripture we find God giving good gifts to the creation, whether in the form of food, companionship, guidance, freedom, community, love. How do you think the idea of God as Creator and God as Provider are related?

There is a fair amount of space in chapter 7 taken up by the ideas of angels, devils, and man’s immortal soul. It’s interesting because the chapter ends with “we condemn all who ridicule or by subtle arguments cast doubt upon the immortality of souls, or who say that the soul sleeps or is a part of God. In short, we condemn all opinions of all men, however many, that depart from what has been delivered unto us by the Holy Scriptures in the apostolic Church of Christ concerning creation, angels, and demons, and man.” Well then, that’s quite a sweeping condemnation! Particularly since the idea of the immortal soul is a serious stretch from anything we find in scripture. The concept of the immortal soul comes from Greek philosophy and was resurrected as an idea that could relate to Christian theology during the Renaissance. So…that makes it hard to take this part of the confession seriously! heehee. Ditto on the idea of the Devil–Bullinger’s translation of the Bible is not clear, and makes it appear as though Satan is a person, when the word “satan” means “adversary” or “one who works against”…which suggests that rather than “the devil” we have a world that is filled with adversaries–sometimes even we are adversaries!

What do you think of the idea of the immortal soul? If it is true, what does that mean for your Christian life? If it is a concept borrowed from Greek philosophy, how does that change your understanding of your faith and life?

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One response »

  1. I agree with your comments regarding the immortal soul. It may seem comforting to many people, but there is virtually no scripture basis in how we hear it talked about. We owe much to the theologians of today who have helped us understand the metaphors and mysteries of our Bible and the cultural influences that have seeped into the laypersons’ thoughts down through the years.

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