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Pilgrim’s Process: Following the Science, by Peter Sanlon

Pilgrim’s Process

By Peter Sanlon

Following the Science

In recent days there has been much talk about ‘following the science’. People have realised that moving forward in days of a health emergency requires a precise understanding of the situation. We need accurate information to advance.

So it is in our pilgrimage to the celestial city – we need accurate knowledge to keep our steps secure. Some of the most profound words written by the reformer, John Calvin were those with which he opened his classic Christian book, the Institutes. Calvin wrote: ‘Wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.’

Calvin realised that it is of foundational import to see that knowing about God and knowing about ourselves are both distinct and interdependent. 

We need to see that the knowledge of God is radically different to knowledge of ourselves (and any human art or pursuit) because only when this is realised, can we exalt God as the Lord who is glorious, sovereign, transcendent and holy. We always have the temptation of wrongly thinking God is smaller than he is. We err in viewing God as one similar to us in the sense of being subject to unreliability, capriciousness or weakness. Merely pondering how different and other to us God is, can refresh us and give us more light for the path ahead. Calvin saw this with great clarity.

He also recognised that knowledge of ourselves is interdependent with knowledge of God. The difference and otherness between people and God is not absolute – we are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26). As creatures fashioned in the likeness of God, we only have right knowledge of ourselves when we see ourselves as dependent and related to our creator. This means that the partial knowledge our world proclaims to have about itself, is misleading insofar as it purports to be autonomous and impartial. The  so-called ‘assured facts’ loved by rebels cannot but be hostile to the Lord. Those who think they can understand people and families and relationships and societies apart from obedience to God’s Words mistake darkness for light.  People are known and understood when all relevant information is traced back to the light of all – Jesus Christ (Jn.1:9). 

As Calvin noted the fundamental distinction and interdependence between knowledge of God and people, he experienced the evidence of true knowledge – humility. He admitted that there is much he could not discern or know. ‘…it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.’ This is the kind of knowledge we need for our pilgrimage.

Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon is rector of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: