Misery 101

Since some reading in The Institutes yesterday afternoon I’ve been mulling over the lessons of misery under the sun, namely, misery teaches us to regard God and put our stock in another world. Even as Christians we tend to skip this required class (for some reason it’s always early in the morning) so it’s no wonder when we flub assignments like seeking things above and hating the world. Calvin points out,

[I]f you examine the plans, the efforts, the deeds, of anyone, there you will find nothing else but earth. Now our blockishness arises from the fact that our minds, stunned by the empty dazzlement of riches, power, and honors, become so deadened that they can see no farther. The heart also, occupied with avarice, ambition, and lust, is so weighed down that it cannot rise up higher. In fine, the whole soul, enmeshed in the allurements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on earth. (3.9.1)

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Though this wasn’t necessarily a new thought, it did cause fresh reflection on all those who sit in Misery 1011, listening to Professor Vanity, but refuse to learn. I wonder how people can read books like Unrecognized and Unappreciated Abilities, Hurtful Relationships and You, Death of Family, Living with Chronic Pain, and Burning Candles on Both Ends to No Effect, and still not get the message. There’s no other explanation than the blinding, deceiving influence of sin. The god of this world is a master-teacher too and persuades his students that the earthly life will yield sweet fruit if they just put their heart into it. But that formula only adds frustration in this life to failure in the next.

As disciples of Christ there is progress to report when

we learn that this life, judged in itself, is troubled, turbulent, unhappy in countless ways, and in no respect clearly happy; that all those things which are judged to be its goods are uncertain, fleeting, vain, and vitiated by many intermingled evils. From this, at the same time, we conclude that in this life we are to seek and hope for nothing but struggle; when we think of our crown, we are to raise our eyes to heaven. For this we must believe: that the mind is never seriously aroused to desire and ponder the life to come unless it be previously imbued with contempt for the present life. (Ibid.)

I am thankful for grace to appreciate and learn from misery, though it does make me even more eager to complete the course.


  1. I might have mentioned The School of Hard Knocks but it seemed either too easy or too cheesy.