This post came about from comments written by myself and two others elsewhere on this blog. For the sake of clarity and to keep a post on a given topic, I’ve decided to bring those references and comments under a new post.
My previous post on “Calvinitus” was an attempt to show my struggle with Calvinist doctrines infusing themselves and otherwise coloring (maybe blinding?) my perception of God. However, after recently watching an old movie about Lou Gehrig, Pride of the Yankees (1942), it occurred to me that perhaps Calvinists also struggle with the reality of their own doctrines – particularly unconditional election.
Most people probably associate Lou Gehrig with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”. ALS is an insidious progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord for which there’s currently no cure. I have no idea as to what Lou Gehrig’s religious beliefs were. If I may, however, let’s assume Lou Gehrig was an ardent Calvinist. There’s a scene from the movie, where Lou Gehrig learns that he has ALS, which goes something like this:
Lou: Give it to me straight, doc. Is it three strikes?
Doc: Yes, Lou, I’m afraid so.
Lou: Well, I’ve learned something over my life. You can’t change the call of the umpire.
Calvinists I know believe that God ordains all things. That being true, then Lou Gehrig’s “Calvinist” example is one of humbling accepting God’s will when he’s diagnosed with ALS because of his realization that “you can’t change the call of [God]”. Lou further exemplifies his submission to God’s will when he says during his retirement speech, “I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
It was interesting, then to find a story (here) where a Calvinist man goes to visit his grandfather in a hospital. Also present at the hospital are his grandmother and a Eucharist minister. The Calvinist man is upset that the Eucharist minister is offering his grandparents feel-good prayers, pseudo-repentance and communion. The Calvinist man was struck by the wretchedness, hostility, false assurance and blasphemy of the Eucharist minister’s actions and his grandparents attitudes toward God. The story continues that later, and without success, the Calvinist man tries to convey the gospel message to his grandfather.
It surprises me that Calvinists appear blinded by the logic inherent within their own doctrines. According to the doctrines of total depravity and unconditional election, God determines who will be saved and conversely who will be eternally lost. Therefore, why is this Calvinist man dismayed at his grandparents or the Eucharist minister? God hasn’t elected them. They’re toast. The Calvinist man understands that no witnessing, no praying, nothing the Calvinist man could do is going to change what God has sovereignty decreed. As such, I submit that the Calvinist man’s frustrations towards his grandparents and the Eucharist minister are misdirected. Consider:
- The Calvinist man believes God has predetermined the decisions his grandparents have made.
- God, however, has not chosen to save the Calvinist man’s grandparents.
- The Calvinist man is dismayed that his grandparents are not elect.
- And, the Calvinist man realizes that because God is in control, there’s nothing he can do.
- As such aren’t those feelings of loss and separation related to his grandparent’s eternal destiny directly attributable to God’s sovereignty in the matter?
- The grief the Calvinist man displays would seem (to me at least) to indicate a desire for God to change the inevitable outcome.
- Therefore, the Calvinist man is in reality opposed to God’s will in this matter. And if we’re not in favor of some act or condition, then by definition we’re opposed to that very same thing.
What I don’t see from the Calvinist man in this story is the humility exhibited by Lou Gehrig. Wouldn’t the Calvinist man, if he truly believes in his doctrines, say something to the effect of, “I thank God for his sovereignty and for having blessed me with the greatest grandparents on the face of the earth. I hope and pray that God may change my grandparent’s attitudes toward himself. But I willingly accept God’s sovereign will and know that even my grandparent’s eternal separation will bring glory to God if only through his perfect wrath.”
That’s just a story some might argue. Fair enough – but I think it ties in well to an MSNBC news story (here) of a young Calvinist pastor, Matt Chandler, currently undergoing treatments for brain cancer. After reading the story, here are the comments I made to my good friend and ardent Calvinist, Mike:
Is there not something incongruous between Matt’s statements versus his actions as related to Calvinist thought and logic regarding the will of God?
“Lord, you gave [me cancer] for a reason.”
[Matt] is praying that God will heal him.
Whatever happens, [Matt] says, is God’s will, and God has his reasons.
As I understand Matt’s statements, he’s as much saying that God ordained him to contract brain cancer. However, according to Matt, that doesn’t mean waiting for fate to occur. Rather, it means fighting for his life, and to that end, Matt is undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. I hope this question doesn’t come across as belittling. However, if Matt truly believes God gave him cancer, then why doesn’t Matt have the faith to accept the cancer along with the significant potential of him dying and leaving behind his wife and two young daughters?
From reading the article, I sense Matt believes that God could cure him without all the standard fare of cancer treatments? Yet, Matt appears to have decided that it’s best to undergo all of the treatments. Isn’t Matt in essence saying, “Dear Lord, I know that if it’s your will to cure me, I’ll be healed. No if’s, ands, or or’s about it. Now, please don’t be angry at my lack of faith – but just in case, I’ll start all these different treatment options because maybe, just maybe, it’s your will that I’ll be healed through one of them. Okay?”
Honestly, this seems to be more of the thought process Gideon used. In this case, Matt seems to be hedging his “faith-bet” by putting down sheepskins of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in order to ensure that all the bases are covered – and all the options for God to use are available . Is Matt showing his faith? Or, is Matt showing his desire to live irrespective of what God may have ordained?
With regret, I say that this appears to be somewhat of a false-faith. All the Calvinists know I emphatically emphasize God’s sovereignty and his being in control of everything in our lives. And yet, when confronting an obvious life-or-death situation such as cancer, I’ve NEVER known anyone who was willing to sit back, praise God for the cancer (or any other serious or life-altering disease) they contracted, and look forward to their death. Granted, I’ve only known of a few people who’ve dealt with cancer and the like. But irrespective of the situation or circumstance, no one I know (Calvinists or not) simply allows “God’s will” to occur. Everyone employs some subtle theological argument that “maybe, just maybe I had better play it safe in case God might be leading in ‘this’ direction.”
By definition then (at least as I see it), this Calvinist pastor is fighting God’s will and in essence trying to wrest control of the end results from God (most likely his death from cancer) by undergoing treatments. So, I’m curious as to what you think: is Matt is trying to take control away from and/or otherwise alter the sovereign will of God?