Practical application of Calvinism

I have been reading C.S. Lewis's 'The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe' to my sons in preparation for the film coming out this Christmas. We just got to the chapter where the children are in the beaver's home and are being told that they need to meet Aslan. When they find out that Aslan is a lion, (symbolic of Christ) they are freighted. They ask, "Is he a safe lion?" Mr. Beaver chuckles, and says nothing to allay their fears. I don't think many Christians are comfortable with an un-safe God either.

I think that is why Calvinism is not very popular. There are some problems I see with Calvinism. Not so much the doctrine, as the application, and even more problematic, it can be a huge downer on Christian apologetic work. In other words, the concept can scare people away from Christianity faster than topics like abortion, gay marriage, and hell. Now this could be because it's totally wrong, and people's reactions to it are based on a natural revulsion. Or it could be because there is a necessary maturity or experience level requirement to accepting it with joy.

I guess I would call it hard doctrine. Or advanced theology. In the same way a first grade student couldn't grasp trigonometry, a young Christian, or non Christian is going to have trouble handling Calvinism. Please don't think that I'm saying mature Christians are Calvinists, and immature Christians aren't! I'm just saying that I don't know any immature Christians who even want to consider the possibility. It can make God seem, well, not nice. And modern Christianity is all about downplaying the fire and brimstone, and highlighting the self-help aspects of the Bible and God's nature. We want God to be like Dr. Phil. Tough love, but ultimately soft and loving. When confronted with scripture that contradicts the Dr. Phil template, most Christians just ignore it. They convince themselves that Aslan is a safe lion.

Paul said at some point we must abandon the milk of scripture and move on to the meat of it. And meat requires chewing. That's what I mean when I say we need to stop ignoring the scripture that makes us uncomfortable by painting a different kind of picture of God than the one that modern Christianity has painted for us. But I think the kinder, gentler God we all would prefer fails to account for a good deal of reality. When I think of tragedy and those who are comforted by God through the unexplainable grief, I believe they are understanding something that is beyond our one-sided doctrine of 'God is love and that means making people happy'. Those who suffer immensely and still praise God for it are holding onto a faith that says we can't understand God and His reasoning. God is not safe. He gives no guarantee of happiness. To expect that is to diminish God and set yourself up for disappointment, resentment, and bitterness. One of the greatest stories I've heard is about a man named Horatio Spafford. He wrote the famous hymn, 'It Is Well With My Soul.'

This hymn was writ­ten af­ter two ma­jor trau­mas in Spaf­ford’s life. The first was the great Chi­ca­go Fire of Oc­to­ber 1871, which ru­ined him fi­nan­cial­ly (he had been a weal­thy bus­i­ness­man). Short­ly af­ter, while cross­ing the At­lan­tic, all four of Spaf­ford’s daugh­ters died in a col­li­sion with an­o­ther ship. Spaf­ford’s wife Anna sur­vived and sent him the now fa­mous tel­e­gram, “Saved alone.” Sev­er­al weeks lat­er, as Spaf­ford’s own ship passed near the spot where his daugh­ters died, the Ho­ly Spir­it in­spired these words:


When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.


I have never experienced tragedy of that magnitude. Though I have had a little one, and it helped me to see that this life is not as cut and dried as I would have liked. And God is bigger and more mysterious than I would have liked. God is love, yes. But what is love? And could it include supernatural elements that you aren’t aware of? If you believe in an afterlife, you must admit that you don't know what it is going to be like. And if you don't know part of the equation, it's foolish to make assumptions about it. We could look at the tiny portion of our lives on earth and proclaim how unfair, and horrid, and evil our existence is. But without knowing what comes next, and what all the injustice, horror, and evil can bring about, our declarations and judgment-calls are faulty.

But try to explain that to a non Christian and see what you get. Calvinism is a tough sell to Christians, and an evangelist's worst nightmare. It can be so easily misapplied and misunderstood. It can be disheartening to think that all the effort in the world will not change your best friends - or heck, even my own – destiny. But here is my response to that: YOU DO NOT KNOW ANYONE'S DESTINY. Therefore you should never be disheartened by the thought that God chose to give grace to some, and not to others. You should never become lazy about evangelism, never loose patience with those who disagree, never give up because you can't possibly know who God has chosen. 20 years ago would anyone have guessed that Alice Cooper would become a Christian? Who's to say Marilyn Manson isn't next. Or Osama Bin Laden? Seriously, this view should make us work all the harder to achieve God's plan for everyone. It should make us more compassionate, not less.

So if you feel like embracing Calvinism would make you cynical, dispassionate, or arrogant, I think you're not really getting it. If you think it shows that God is mean, you're not getting it. If you think it's unfair… Well, life is unfair. But one thing the Bible is very clear about is that God loves justice. And I have faith that when the unknown part of the equation is revealed, we will see that justice will be served.


Aaron said…
I guess I'm the first comment on this blog entry. I don't really know if anybody every posts anyting. I'm thuroughly impressed with your application of Calvinism. I would like to know what inspired you to write this? You hit on all cylinders of the Calvinist mind; the true nature of Love, Calvinism and missions, suffering and God's Sovereignty, and the pragmatism of the 20th century church. Keep it up.

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