On the Absurdity of Calvinism, part 7 of 7: Unanswered Questions

part 6, Theological Unsavoriness.

We have reached the foreordained conclusion of my anti-Calvinistic heptalogy. We’ve covered a lot of territory – scriptural, intellectual, philosophical, evangelical. Our last stop is another philosophical piece of the puzzle, in which I will argue that Calvinism provides a weak worldview and inadequate answers to some cosmic questions about life, the universe, and everything.

Let’s start with this whole salvation thing. [20] Why was the death of Christ required for a sovereign God to effect salvation? This is a question that Christians of every flavor have struggled with at some point. I don’t even know if I have a satisfactory answer to it. But Calvinism definitely doesn’t. If God foreknew and selected before the beginning of time which individuals He would effectively save, then He didn’t need to jump through any hoops or employ any mechanism to enable that to happen. It’s not as if God went “Okay, these are the people I’m going to save, but…*sigh* they’re not perfect, so I can’t just bring them into My presence…looks like I’ll have to provide an atoning sacrifice for them.” The only purpose of God’s action in choosing His people, sending Christ to die for them, and then raising Christ from the dead would be purely spectacle, which seems rather silly and arbitrary.

Of course, the chosen ones still have to know and understand this spectacle in order to cross the threshold of salvation. Which begs another question: [21] Why is knowledge of the death of Christ required for a sovereign God to effect salvation? Again, it’s not clear how this fits into a predestination-plus-atonement view of salvation. So God chooses who to save, but their sin acts as a barrier to their salvation. For whatever reason, God has to offer Jesus as a sacrifice (to…Himself?) in order to remove that sin barrier. Okay, Jesus dies and rises, and the sin barrier is removed. Now God is able to save those sinful people He chose. But I guess it wouldn’t be very glorifying for God if He saved people without them understanding all the love and thought that went into it, so He requires them to learn about it through the proclamation of the gospel before His salvation really kicks into gear. (Well, unless you die as a baby, in which case Calvinists differ on whether predestination applies or whether babies unilaterally go to heaven/hell.) Of course, the Calvinist will respond that part of God’s sovereign choice is the sovereign provision of times and opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. That makes sense, within their framework, but it answers a different question than the one I’m asking. Imagine a remote island tribe, far removed from Mesopotamia, in the third century A.D., with no chance of hearing the gospel. Is God unable to save them? Or are they out on that island because God predestined them to be there and never intended to save them? And if that hypothetical is too far removed from reality, just think about pre-Columbian America instead. Millions of Cherokee, Nez Perce, Lakota, Inca, and Aztec people never caught a whiff of the life, death, and resurrection of a Galilean peasant named Yeshua. Were they all predestined for damnation? Was there never any hope for them? Did Jesus not die for them?

The life of a Christian is generally thought of in terms of pre-salvation and post-salvation (which may or may not assume that “salvation” is a single event occurring at a distinct time – but that’s another dialogue). But in the Calvinist framework in which salvation is wholly the work of the Lord, it’s not clear how I should behave in my post-salvation state. I know that I should worship God, that I should strive to obey Him, that I should tell others about Him and what He has (sovereignly) done for me, and I know what the Bible says. What I don’t know is why. [22] Why should I praise a God who sovereignly chose to save only some? Why does my praise matter? What do my actions matter to a God who’s going to accomplish His purposes anyway?¬†This is where Calvinists lean on verses like “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, the presumed implication of which is that, if you have an attitude like the one I’m describing, you may not really be saved. Well, that may be, but whoops – that was never my choice anyway. Guess there’s nothing I can do about it. But let’s assume for the moment that I am “really saved”, that I am one of God’s elect. I should praise Him, but if I don’t, He’ll still let me into heaven. I should obey Him, but if I screw up, He’s already forgiven me. I should spread the gospel, but if I don’t, He’ll still work things out so that those He intends to hear it will. Calvinism may not necessarily lead to determinism, but it’s not far enough away to make any difference. If all the power is God’s, then really, all of my choices are pretty meaningless. It’s a wonder Calvinists don’t have Ecclesiastes highlighted in their Bible alongside Romans 9 and Ephesians 1-2.

Lastly, let’s ask the big questions of origins, starting with [23] Why did God create sinners? God created people that He then had to save, knowing He would have to save them. He couldn’t have folded that into one action and just created saved people? And, if He had to, unsaved people as well? There’s no argument that, in the Calvinist framework (and most other Christian frameworks), sin was inevitable. But for the Calvinist, there’s really no room for distinguishing between humanity’s responsibility in sinning and God’s responsibility in creating a sinful humanity. He knew what He was doing. If you throw an egg at a wall, you can’t act surprised when it breaks. And this applies whether you’re a literal-creationist (Eve ate the wrong fruit and everything went to crap) or a non-literalist (humanity royally screwed up at some point in their history); either way, people failed to follow God’s plan for them, and He knew they would before they ever did. Somehow, it had to be glorifying to God to allow humanity to suffer in its depravity, and then to swoop in and intervene with His plan of atonement and salvation. But if the groups were decided before the beginning of time, it just seems like He could have saved us all some trouble by just skipping this interim life-living part. Which really gets us into the final, grandest cosmic question a theist can ask: [24] Why did God create anything at all? Calvinism posits that God, from the moment the idea for Creation came into His mind, knew that He would end up with a group of people being purified and brought into His presence for eternity and a group of people being tainted and cast out of His presence for eternity. That’s the best He could do? That’s the most glorifying thing He could come up with? Why would a loving God knowingly create a world in which billions of people’s lives are infuriating to Him and totally wasted in the end? Why would a wrathful God bother saving any of His creation, instead of just letting them all writhe in their misery? Why should we imagine that a perfect God is an entity which somehow straddles the fence between these extremes?

—–

With that, I will end my critique of the doctrine of Calvinism. Some may look at several of these points and see them as issues with Christianity in general, not just Calvinism. They’re probably right. I’m very critical of many tenets of Christianity. But I don’t want anyone to imagine that I’m not a Christian. My faith has taken me on a long road, and I’m far from the place I set out from, yet not as far as I’ll end up. Faith is not a stagnant entity for me. I’m humble enough to allow God to reshape it regularly so that I can understand Him better. God may not change, but times change, and people change, and cultures change, and with that the ways people relate to God and understand God can and must change as well. Too many believers have a fragile faith that cannot withstand the “attacks” (real or perceived) of science, atheism, postmodernism, relativism, et cetera. I have a faith that absorbs these criticisms, considers them, and then if I find there are problems in my faith or understanding, I don’t blame God for it and assume He must not exist; instead, I assume there were problems with my understanding of Him, and I seek a new understanding. I will never fully understand God as long as I live; but with that established, I am free to pursue my understanding of Him in whatever direction that leads me. I will not be bogged down in one place by human doctrine or theology, because that is but one understanding of God. Faith is a journey, not a destination, and with an attitude of humility, it can be a deeply exciting and rewarding journey. Thanks for taking the time to read this series, and I wish you blessings in your own journey, wherever it leads you.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim
    Sep 02, 2012 @ 22:44:51

    A well thought out series. Thanks for taking the time and effort to share your thoughts. Much of it I am in agreement with, as I reject Calvinism and the simple foreknowledge of Arminianism as they lead to the same place. Blessings!

    Reply

  2. Trackback: On The Absurdity Of Calvinism, part 1 of 7: Introduction | Not By Hands
  3. truthseeker00
    Sep 14, 2015 @ 04:46:32

    I deeply appreciate this series of essays. I applaud and echo your belief that our understanding of God and His work of salvation is necessarily dim and often distorted by many things, including ignorance, sin and the deceptions of Satan. I would encourage you to be aware of these deceptive artifices of Satan, as they can play a large part in distorting our perceptions. For example, we should not necessarily reconfigure our faith because the so-called ‘science’ of the day proclaimed something to be true, i.e. Darwinian evolution, global warming or even heliocentricity. We may need to reorient our thinking, as it is possible that our theological assumptions were incorrect; but we would be wise to not naively trust all that the ‘experts’ claim to be true, and in doing so reject reality as revealed by God in scripture and creation. In other words, it is certainly wise to desire and to be open to growth in wisdom, knowledge and understanding; however, it is necessary to hold all that we ‘know’ somewhat loosely, as we are so susceptible to error and deception. We will see all clearly some day, and we are wise to humbly acknowledge how much we don’t know for sure. That said, I agree with your major premises, and find Calvinism sorely wanting in logic, reason and scriptural support.

    Reply

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