Discussion Questions for Calvin study, April 16

  1. What’s the difference between suffering for “defense of the gospel” vs for “whatever ways [we] defend righteousness” (72)?
  2. “When God’s favor rests on us, none of these things [poverty, exile, scorn, imprisonment, dishonor, death] need threaten our happiness” (73). Why? 
  3. What are the “things on which God places such value” that we should think more of than the pleasures of this life? (74)
  4. How does the pain of suffering bring out “endurance” and “courage” in the life of the believer? “Though wounded by sorrow and grief, [the believer] finds rest in the spiritual comfort of his God” (76). Can you think of someone you know who has done this well? How did they do it?
  5. Why and how does lament play such an important role in the life of the believer, even on this side of the resurrection? Calvin says that even “among Christians there are new Stoics who think it is a vice not only to groan and weep, but even to be sad or upset” (78). How does this “new Stoicism” appear in among Christians (or in the world) today? How can we better express grief and fear to God? How can we become a better friend to sad people?
  6. Calvin says that, in anticipation of suffering for and from God, we must “soak our minds in the sort of sensitivity and obedience to God that can tame and subdue every natural impulse contrary to his command” (81). How do we do this “soaking”? Why is it so important to do it now, before great suffering comes?
  7. Here’s how Calvin summarizes the “Christian approach to suffering”: (1) “God’s hand forms us through affliction” and (2) “Our role in affliction is to submit to God” (82). He says this is very different than the view you find out in the world (“the philosophers”), which offers “no reason for enduring suffering except that such suffering is a fact of life.” How have you seen or heard this worldly approach to suffering?
    1. Calvin then makes the point that there is a Christianish version of this worldly approach: “We must submit to God, since it is vain to struggle against him” (83). What’s the difference between this pseudo-Christian approach versus the true, biblical approach?
      Hint: He says that the Christian approach is not about “this frigid song: 'Yield, for such suffering is necessary!'” (84) — it’s about God’s “fairness and justice and…concern for our salvation” (83); in other words, “in bearing [tribulations] with endurance, we’re not yielding to necessity, but we’re assenting to our own good” (85). Note that he’s already argued that for endurance to really be endurance, the Christian will necessarily grieve!! But also note that he says that this willing yielding to both God’s almighty power and his fatherly character leads us into the spiritual joy that fuels gratitude (85)!