June has long disappeared into July but today I was reminiscing about that month– a month that holds bittersweet memories. Both my mother and my father’s birthdays were in June. Father’s Day is in June. It is with sadness that I look back at this month. Am I sad because my parents are gone to their everlasting abode? No, but I am sad over the legacy that they left, the acceptance of responsibility never uttered, the reconciliation never achieved. In my heart I have forgiven them but there is always a certain part of unfinished business left dangling – a wondering if there is a regret in the place where they have gone.
As a result of all this, I have always struggled with the image of God that I obtained from my father – the image of a being with endless power who sternly looks down at me with condemnation and uses me arbitrarily to accomplish his desires. He does not particularly care about me and whatever “love” is shown me is offered me IF I fulfill his demands. Not a very appealing picture of our Father in heaven if that picture of my earthly father is transferred to Him. But over the years, through the genuine love and caring of my husband, I had been able to develop a picture of a God who loves us first of all, has our best interest in mind, and calls gently for us to follow Him as He wants to have a relationship with us.
My husband and I, when we got married, chose a church that preached the simple message of the gospel – the gospel that I responded to as a child in the Mennonite church. God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die for the sins of the whole world on a cross so that mankind might have an everlasting relationship with Him should he so choose to accept God’s gift. As a child, I accepted God’s gift of salvation and became one of His children. I had become quite comfortable in my beliefs. Everything made sense. However, a few years ago, I began to notice more people coming into our church who would talk about their lives as if they were pre-determined by God. I found that rather odd and troubling as one of the other beliefs that had been engrained in me was that we, as image bearers of God, are able to make choices in our lives that affect the course of our life. If fact, this belief is the one that allowed me to step out into the unknown in faith while escaping my father’s oppressive control. I shudder to think where I would still be today if I had believed and accepted that all of life is pre-determined from before the world began.
Several years went by during which I did not understand that the sovereignty of God was being defined as divine determinism. One day while listening to a John Piper video in Sunday School, Mr. Piper was talking about this everything being pre-determined idea when he said, “Yes, I am a Calvinist.” What’s a Calvinist? I had no idea. I went home and began researching on the internet. Whow! I was shocked with what I found and more shocked to realize that something I had hoped to never encounter was in the midst of seemingly the most evangelical of churches. It was the belief that “God is the all-determining reality: that is every single thing that happens has been rendered certain (ordained) by God because there is nothing God does not either directly or indirectly cause (including sin).”
For those of you reading this who have no idea, from this belief springs several principles outlined in Calvinism by an acronym -TULIP.
T stands for Total depravity which most Christians would agree with. We are totally sinful and cannot save ourselves. What would be in dispute would be the belief that goes along with this that we are also totally unable to believe the Gospel message without God making us believe (or regenerating us before giving us salvation).
U stands for Unconditional Election or the belief that God arbitrarily chose, through no action or attribute of the creature, before the world was formed, who He would give the gift of salvation to (predestination) and who He would “pass over” or damn to hell.
L stands for Limited Atonement or the belief that Christ died only for those who God pre-elected and not for the whole world.
I stands for Irresistible Grace or the belief that if God has chosen you to be one of His “elect” that you cannot resist His saving you.
P stands for Perseverance of the Saints. In other words, since it is already pre-determined who will be saved, one’s salvation (if so chosen) is guaranteed.
After much reading and research, my mind and my faith were in a turmoil. Everything I have ever believed was called into question. How is it possible that people could interpret the Bible in this manner? All I could see in the Calvinistic god was my father. A god who did not really love me. A stern hard hearted being who used his created beings as puppets only for His “glory.” A god who was incomprehensible and schizophrenic. And a father who, apparently, was pre-destined to destroy his family with his pride and selfishness. I was left with so many questions and few answers. How can people interpret the Bible in so many ways? Who is right? Is there any way to escape from this pit of despair where I do not know what I believe and have no one that I can trust to make sense of all this? It is a very lonely place to be.
I finally came upon a book called Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism by Austin Fischer that paralleled the emotional and spiritual journey of myself and helped me to return to my former belief system. I can rest in the comfort that God does love me and reaches out for a relationship with me. I only need to accept his gift through faith.