Friday, October 19, 2007

Guest Contributor: Stef

Perfect timing, Stef! As we're out of town starting in about 2 hours, the rest of you enjoy this piece of writing. I probably will not post any response until I get back (Sunday)...

I was asked to write about a subject that I think is of supreme importance in the Christian faith – election. This is a doctrine that the theologian John Calvin brought to light.

According to Calvin, “Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ's death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the Gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.”

I believed in the basic principle of Calvinism before I even knew who Calvin was, or before I heard the words soteriology, election, or predestination. Simply put, this doctrine says that God chooses us for salvation – we do not choose him. This is a doctrine that I subscribe to. If that was the only side to Calvinism, most Christians would probably believe in it as well. But the flip side of God choosing some for salvation means that he has not chosen all – which means he knowingly has chosen some for Hell. Believers and non-believers alike cannot fathom a God who would bring life to something and not give that life a chance for salvation. I have had a hard time writing on Calvinism because there is so much discord in the Christian faith about it, and I just have not done enough study on it to defend it. There are many Christians out there that I admire and respect, and who’s intellect FAR surpasses mine, and who have studied much more on the subject than I have that have come to a different conclusion about it. But what I love about Calvinism is it’s view on the Sovereignty of God.

If you do not believe there is a God, this whole topic is pointless. But if you do believe there is a God, and that God is creator of all things, sustainer of all things, and ruler of all things… I would assume that you believe he is the “chooser” of all things.

About the Sovereignty of God:

I have a problem with people placing human standards on God - when people lightly joke about how God must be on vacation because all this bad stuff is happening in the world…. or when people are so quick to blame God when something horrible like the murder of a little girl happens. This is God’s universe, and he may do in it what he pleases. I’m not saying that it pleases God to see one of his creation brutally murdered, just as it does not please a mother to discipline her child. I’m also not saying that the murder of an innocent girl was God disciplining someone… all I’m saying is that we cannot comprehend the way in which God acts, just as a child cannot comprehend (before it’s old enough) why his mother is angry with him over certain things. Have you ever seen a child be completely unreasonable about something? For example when you’re preparing a baby’s bottle and they’re screaming their heads off – and you’re telling them either out loud or in your head: “can’t you see I’m making it? It’s not ready yet… just wait 30 seconds and you’ll have it and all this time that you’ve spent crying and making yourself miserable will have been wasted.” I’m sure if we could have a conversation with that baby (which is impossible because if we could have a conversation with them about it, they would be logical enough not to have screamed their head of to begin with), but if we did have a conversation about it… I’m pretty sure that the baby would tell you that they thought their world was coming to an end. Just as when an older child loses a precious toy or an even older child breaks up with their first boyfriend / girlfriend… they can’t imagine a worse tragedy. It is the end of the world to them relatively speaking. 9/11, the Tsunami, the murder of a little girl, a young mother being taken from this world way too early due to brain cancer… these are all things that are the end of the world to us now. And just as you sympathize and weep with your children over the loss of their toy, or boyfriend / girlfriend… you feel their loss… you ultimately know that it is a fleeting thing. So it is with God. To me, as a Christian, I know that there is more to life than this world that we are in right now. Not only that, but if you believe in a Creator… if you believe that there is a being that created everything that we see… a being capable of creating this world that we live in… you would probably feel pretty small. Our sufferings are nothing - - they are finite fleeting things, even those horrendous things I mentioned above. We just cannot comprehend their finite and fleeting nature, because just as the child cannot see beyond their maturity… we cannot see beyond our humanity.

“Everything is the Heaven and Earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. You are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you: you are the ruler of all things.” I believe that nothing belongs to me. There is nothing that I have done to deserve anything that I have – including life itself, and including salvation. Everything that I have – money, a functioning body, shelter, freedom – everything that I have has been given to me… and any one of those things can be taken away at any moment. Who am I to complain if one of those things are taken away from me? They weren’t mine to begin with! This is something I’ve learned from recently becoming a parent to a puppy. I love to give her treats because I think she’ll love (appreciate) me more… but the only reason she’d love me for giving her treats is if she was grateful for those treats. Puppies, like people, are not grateful for things that they believe they are entitled to. Atheists do not believe they were given life from a creator… therefore they cannot be grateful for it as a gift. They, just like my puppy, can be so happy they have it and enjoy it to the fullest and have reverence for it… but do not understand or revere it in the same way that someone who believes they were created by God does. They believe they are entitled to that life, because they do not believe they were chosen for life, or created by a supreme being.

An atheist probably believes (and I’m assuming here) that they have worked hard for everything that they own. They have worked so hard to get their job, and they deserve that job. They deserve the monetary rewards it brings… and they deserve the things that money buys them. That’s what I would think too, if I were an atheist. As a Christian… I believe that my talents are gifts from God, making me able to have the job that I have. Being the Calvinist I am… I also believe that God preordained every aspect of my life including my talents which give me my job, which provide my paychecks, which purchase my possessions. The difference between me and an Atheist is when those items are taken from us. An Atheist will feel a sense of injustice – for they have worked so hard to earn these things. I will feel pain… but in my view… it was an injustice for me to have those things in the first place. It’s not that I should feel bad about having things… but I merit none of these things in my own power (including SAVATION).

This is my view… the complete and utter Sovereignty of God… I will close with the much recited verse from Isaiah “You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, that what is made would say to its maker, "He did not make me"; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, "He has no understanding"?


Jared said...

This is exactly what we envisioned when we started this "thing". Very well written.

We'll be able to discuss Sunday or monday. Until then...

Talk amongst yourselves.

Stacy said...

Very well written, Stef.

I guess my question about this view (complete soverignty) is what do you think of people like me, those with little or no faith or belief? Are we just unfortunate to have been made this way? (Not a cynical tone here, just a question)...

Stef said...

I do think that you were made the way that you are. I do think that it's up to God to "save" you... it's not up to you to "come to your senses." (not that I think that you're out of your senses, I'm just saying that you're not in control of it.) It is my personal belief (can you say that anymore without hearing Miss South Carolina in your head?) that the only way that you can get to heaven is through Jesus... and I believe that God predestined before there was time who is and who is not going to believe. I don't think it is unfortunate for you to have been made this way because it's not the end of your life. I don't think that had you died while you were professing Christ that you would have gone to Heaven any more than if you die right now you would go to Hell. There are five points of Calvinism (known by the acronym TULIP).

Total Depravity - meaning we are born sinners.

Unconditional Election - meaning that our election does not have conditions. We were not elected based on merit.

Limited Atonement - meaning that salvation is only good for the elect. The sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient to save all, but not all will be saved.

Irresistible Grace - meaning the elect cannot resist the grace given by God.

Preserverence of the Saints - you cannot lose your salvation.

So all of those things can mean one of several things to you as a convert. 1. God has called you, and you will never lose your salvation. 2. You never really were a Christian to begin with.

Yes, I think it is unfortunate that God elects some and not others... but we have no idea who God elects and who God doesn't. All we can see is the past and present, we cannot see the future. Who knows Stacy, you may die at a good old age as an avid follower of Jesus. :-) I know you'd love that!

I would think less of God if I thought that you, Stacy, could waiver back and forth between saved and not saved. Not that I don't admire your intellect and think that you are one of the smartest (and nice smelling) humans... but you are incapable of getting climbing between heaven and hell. I'm sure that you're aware that you don't know everything. Even the smartest person who ever lived was wrong about certain things. To think that it is up to our reasoning, logic, and intellect to determine our eternal fate is unfathomable to me. Don't you look back at things that you thought just a few years ago and are slightly embarassed about what your brain concluded (whether it be about faith, a person you loved, a scientific thing like the world being flat etc..). Don't you think that it's possible to look back at this time now and feel embarassed about what you think now? (I'm speaking to everyone here, myself included). What if you had died a few years ago when you were a camp counselor? Heaven? What if you die now? Hell? To think that our mindset has something to do with our salvation is a ludicrous thought to me. And, if you believe in free will... and that God hasn't preordained every aspect of life means that not only is God not in control of your salvation, but also not in control of when you die... meaning that salvation 100% on YOUR shoulders. What if someone is"supposed" to die when they're 72, but because there's free will some guy chooses to kill them now before they had a chance to get saved... are they going to Hell?

That should give you a sense of relief and freedom from having to "save" yourself. It gives me a freedom from having to "save" you and others I love.

I'm not saying I'm right... this is just what I believe based on my experience with God and from how I interpret certain Bible passages and from what I've read of scholars that I trust.

Stef said...

One more thing: Humans are so easily influenced by anything. Look at the effect (affect? I don't know the difference) that the media has on our culture. To think that God has placed the decision of salvation into minds as influencable as ours is just a scary thought.

PS, I know you're not trying to "save" yourself.

Evie said...

Thanks for sharing your beliefs so openly in a potentially hostile forum. I'll state up front that I was a professing Christian until a few months ago. Now I consider myself a deconverted non-theist, or atheist if you prefer.

I grew up in the Wesleyan-Arminian free will tradition. The plus side of that tradition is that people can hear the gospel and be saved. They can take minimal action (believing in and accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior) to help themselves; they are not doomed from the starting gate without any hope of salvation simply because it is their pre-ordained destiny to be damned. The minus side of that tradition is that a believer may never be entirely certain that he or she "believes strongly enough," or is "faithful enough," and so on. It leads very easily to legalism.

The plus side of Calvinism is that the elect can rest confidently in the security of their salvation, on the condition that they are certain they are of the elect. The down side, as I see it, is that it's theoretically possible for a professing Calvinist to believe the right stuff and do the right stuff and still be damned, if he or she is not, in fact, one of the elect. Again, I'm not sure how one is ever certain about his or her salvation-state.

I realize that, according to Calvinism, God's sovereignty is the trump card. He can do anything He wants simply because He is God. Do you also hold that God is omnibenevolent? If so, how do you reconcile His omnibenevolence with the apparent randomness of His grace? Why must an all-powerful, all-loving divine Being condemn a selected segment of puny, helpless creatures to eternal torment? What purpose is served by this state of affairs? How can God possibly be glorified by it? Surely a powerful, loving God doesn't actually require praise and adoration from mere mortals to stroke His ego. And why on earth would such an awesome Being desire such obsequiousness? What can He possibly gain by it?