Looking Ahead, Seeing Nothing

IMG_2324It has felt as though the fog on this faith-journey over the last couple of years is so thick that I can’t see ahead, behind or even to either side. I’ve lost my bearings as to where I was much less understand where I’m at now, where I’m going or even if I’m moving in any direction. I was recently asked if the effort figuring out Calvinism/Arminianism is really worth it. Wouldn’t my time be better put towards developing a deeper relationship with Jesus? Sure. I could just decide – yes, I’m firmly in camp “X”. However, the doubts and the confusion would remain if only because the logical disconnect of competing doctrines essentially using the same scriptural references to justify their respective positions is, at least to me, such a dichotomy.

Still, I recently saw this question posed on an Open Theist web site: 

  • If everything has been predetermined before all of us exist, then, would prayer help at all?

That question immediately made me think of the movie Groundhog Day in which TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) was in some sort of time-loop and had to relive the same day numerous times until, I presume, he got it right. I don’t think it was the movie creator’s intention, but it was almost as though there was a predetermined outcome that had to be gotten right before Phil was able to move on.

There were, as one might expect, numerous responses from all perspectives of which one in particular got my attention. I’ve edited it for readability: 

I spent many long years as a Calvinist. I continually shouted at God to help me change the very hard and painful circumstances of my life. However, nothing changed. I knew it was futile anyway because God had apparently decided to leave me in those circumstances. I tried all the pat answers:

  • The C. S. Lewis option – prayer changes us, not God.
  • The faith option – if I express genuine faith – and lots of it i.e. the faith of a mustard seed, then I’ll see changes happen.
  • The Job option – I must have sin somewhere that is stopping God from hearing me.
  • The passive option – God has my best interests at heart.

However, in the end I had to accept the horrible thing that had happened was the best of all possible options. It wasn’t until I really embraced Open Theism that prayer became something dynamic and a means of genuine communication. As it was, my previous prayer life was more of an information dump wherein character X (me) protested as to why the author (God) wrote the story. And, the author (God) explained to character X (me) that it was okay if I never understood why the story was written was written as it was.

Ironically, I think this poor schlep has really hit on something. The ardent Calvinists I know are confident that no matter what happens, God is in control. Perhaps to a slightly lesser degree, these same Calvinists will claim that any and everything that happens to each and every one (elect and non-elect alike) is as a direct result of God’s sovereignty in order to enable a particular outcome that brings about greater glory to God.

If that’s true – that there’s no free will and this poor schlep converts from Calvinism to Open Theism and finds that his prayer life has become dynamic, is this poor schlep wallowing in his own misunderstanding of God’s “plan” and experiencing a sort of “false comfort” based on, perhaps, self-motive? After all, God didn’t change, right? Rather, this poor schlep’s perspective of God changed. So, is this poor schlep feeling better about his faith because he decided to identify with something which apparently was more comfortable? On the other hand, if there is free will and God isn’t sovereignly controlling each and every detail, then is this poor schlep experiencing a newfound joy and sense of freedom because he now understands or otherwise relates to God from a proper perspective?

Honestly, how is one to know?

Caption picture graciously provided by LT. More of his fabulous pictures can be found here.

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If God Can Be Surprised by His Creation, Can Calvinists Really Claim Unconditional Election?

A friend recently indicated his doubt as to whether God is suprised by anything. I’d previously come across Gen 6:6 which says, “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.”  My only consideration of this verse and passage was that God knew what was going to happen and when sin fully engulfed man that created a separation between a holy God and a sin-filled man, God was grieved about this. 

Thinking back to my elementary school years, I knew my report cards were going to be full of failing grades and for what it’s worth, I ended up having to repeat 6th grade. Still, I hated the anticipation of those report cards. I would dread being handed the report card by my teacher. I was fearful of having to show that report card to my parents. Yet, when I was actually handed the report card and looked inside, the reality of those bad grades hit hard and I felt much worse than I had beforehand. 

The thought then occurred, how would I have felt if I wasn’t expecting those bad grades? Would I have been “surprised” even if I may have had some inklings that all was not well?

It seems to make sense that God would know everything because He’s omniscient and not constrained by time. How could God possibly be surprised at anything?  Well, seek and ye shall find – as I stumbled upon these verses while digging through a concordance for words such as “grieve” and “regret”:

1 Sam 15:10-11 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel; “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” 

Num 14:11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous sings I have performed among them?” 

Jer 19:5 (I’m pretty sure God is speaking here) They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal – something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. 

Given that these verses don’t appear to be spoken/written in hyperbole, they do appear (at least to me) to indicate that God can sometimes be surprised as to the exact outcome of something.  Could this be true?  Can God be “surprised” – at least in regard to things He hasn’t predetermined? These verses alone certainly don’t constitute a full defense of Open Theism.  Nevertheless, the question that comes to my mind is: if God can be surprised, can Calvinists claim unconditional election with absolute certainty?

Two-Point Calvinism – Is That an Acceptable Alternative?

Towards the end of a recent sermon, barriers to Bible study including “I don’t know how” and “I’m not motivated” were mentioned.  In my own journey, a struggle with Bible study is related to opposing perspectives where both sides of an argument reference and use the same scriptures in defending their arguments.  What is one, who admittedly struggles with the general concepts of Calvinism, to believe when PhD theologians (if that’s the correct term) such as John Piper and Greg Boyd can’t agree on the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 9?  Focusing less on a theological “system” such as Calvinism or any theological model that attempts to organize biblical data may be the best approach.  However, it’s my observation that variability in scriptural interpretation comes about, in part, because believers have a “hypothesis” based upon their “belief system”.  That said, the debate regarding Calvinism is troubling because 1) there appear to be good arguments for and against Calvinism and 2) one’s perception of who God is can be significantly altered by an affinity (or lack thereof) to Calvinist thought.  Honestly, do believers get to choose (pun intended) who’s right – and conversely, who’s wrong?  It may seem like a silly thing and perhaps it is.  However, the impact of Calvinistic thought has been real in my relationship to God over the last three years.  Perhaps I’m ignorant of facts.  Perhaps all too often data is usurped by dogma.  Perhaps there is a sense of mystery in a spiritual relationship.  Perhaps mystery leads to a theological tension. 

Is there such a thing as a “two-point” Calvinist?  For instance, are there Calvinists who adhere only to (T) total depravity and (P) perseverance of the saints?  I’ve always thought that Calvinism rises or falls collectively on all five points (TULIP).  What if ditching the whole notion of election, and perhaps a couple of other Calvinist tenants as well, eliminates my sense of theological tension? 

Hey Colleen!  Guess what? 

I’m a Calvinist now!  Praise God! 

Albeit, I’ll just admit to being a two-point Calvinist.  Somehow, that expressed sentiment seems hollow because it lacks the totality of Calvinistic thought.  There are five points within the Calvinist “system” or “theological model”.  In addition, I suspect my dear friend is not rejoicing over any two-point Calvinist conversion I may proclaim. 

So, back to where I started – as an open theist.  For reasons I don’t fully understand, I am more comfortable with the general concepts of open theism than I am with Calvinism.  I just don’t know whether open theism is right.  Then, too, I don’t know if Calvinism is right either.  The theological tension continues.