Why I’m glad that I’m no longer a Calvinist…

…and some other rambling thoughts about suffering and stumbling.

I wrote this as a comment on a blog a few months ago:

I wish I had the rest of the day to respond to individual posts. As many of you so eloquently and heartbreakingly described, grief and suffering HURTS. Jesus showed us what true compassion and grief looks like when he wept with his friends over the loss of their brother — even though Jesus knew full well he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. Later, Paul would remind Christians to weep with those who weep, to bear each others’ burdens.

And, you know what? Doing that HURTS — not as much as the actual pain of the one grieving, but it hurts to sit with someone in their pain and totally open your heart, allowing their pain to invade your safe little bubble. It’s scary to admit that we don’t have neat, tidy answers to difficult tragedies. It’s scary to admit similarly devastating blows could strike us as well. So we blame people for their own pain in a self-righteous and desperate attempt to promise ourselves that this same sickness, this same tragedy, will never come near us. And, if it does, we will handle it better. We are made of stronger stuff and better theology, so we will never hurt as much as those other people. That’s what we tell ourselves.

I know. I was that person…until my world exploded about 6 years ago, and years of running from pain and being all “praise God, the past is in the past!” came crashing down on me. Thank God that I had left Calvinists and Calvinism behind before then.

There were no easy answers. I did not heal nicely, or neatly, or tidily. It was messy. I stumbled and fell a lot. I sinned — not by grieving or hurting or being a mess, but by actual sins. I met a ragtag group of beautiful fellow sufferers who showed me what true, loving acceptance looks like. The best thing that eventually came out of the evil that Satan intended for me — and he intends evil for all of us because he is all about killing, stealing, and destroying — is that God showed me that he is a redemptive God. Sin and evil and sickness has no silver lining, but God can redeem the worst thing. And the best way he redeemed all that ugliness in my life, all the pain that came to a head in recent years, is that he revealed himself to me as the perfect, loving Father that I’d never dreamed he could be. It was in relationship with him — and some of his representatives who shared his love — that I have been able to walk out my healing journey. (It has felt like stumbling and even being dragged more than walking at times.)

This longwinded comment is to say that I think when we begin to comprehend the enormity and tenderness of God’s love — especially in the midst of life’s ickyness —when we begin to experience how deeply personal and intimate his love is for us, it makes all the difference. The Calvinist view of God is much safer. It keeps God at a comfortable distance. God up close and personal is beautiful and healing beyond all comprehension, but it’s also overwhelming. After all, this is the God of the universe we’re talking about.

My world has been rocked. My heart has been broken. I’ve lost my taste for nominal Christianity. I have no easy answers. Sometimes all I can do is hug someone, pray for them, and weep. And that hurts, even though compassion is a good hurt, a good heartbreak.

That’s what I was running from when I was a Calvinist. I needed a small, safe, understandable, predictable God who provided security and a safe haven from pain and messiness. What I’ve found now is this huge, wild, mysterious, incomprehensible God who has captured my heart, melted and broken it, healed and tenderized it — and turned my world upside down.

I wish everybody could know that wonderful, amazing, magnificent God.

About the smallness of man’s theology 

Recently I was involved in an online discussion of John Piper and Calvinism. I had especially taken issue with something Piper said to victims of child molestation about the abuse they suffered: “And so you try to say there is no sense in which the sovereign God willed that, you will lose God for the rest of your life.”

My first response to that statement was admittedly made in anger:

God did not will my molestation, my rape, or any other of the evil things I suffered in my life — especially not in the sense John Piper says. Is God sovereign? Yes. Are we puppets on a string? No. Missing from all this is the concept of free will, but the hyper-Calvinists don’t seem to believe in that anyway.

This statement of Piper’s makes me angry. Furious, in fact. Because it is a lie from the pit of hell, and I don’t say that lightly. Thank God that I did not encounter this when I was struggling with the whole question of where God was when horrible things were happening to me or to people I care about.

I have NOT lost God. I am closer to Him now than ever before in my life. That includes during my time spent in the Reformed theological camp. I understand God’s love much better than I ever have. I trust Him much better. It is His love that has brought me a greater degree of healing than I ever thought possible in my wildest hopes and dreams.

My life, especially over the past two years, exposes Piper’s statement as a damnable lie. Don’t believe it. Not for a second.

ACK!! I’m so angry that I better stop before I get to ranting.

The next morning my anger and indignation was gone, and I posted this:

I am alive today because God does intervene in people’s lives, and He graciously and mercifully rescued me out of the dark theological quagmire that people like Piper are trapping people into. The God of the Bible is not as small, mean, petty, and easily defined as they claim. He is, to our puny human minds, simply incomprehensible. There is no answer this side of Heaven to the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.

I’m alive today because the real God — the God that Jesus revealed — captured my heart. It turns out He didn’t ordain or will or cause the awful crimes committed against my person, nor did He merely look the other way. He HATED what was done to me, and it was His outrage, His heart for the oppressed, His compassion, His extravagant love, and His wild, scandalous grace that not only saved my life but won my heart.

Calvinism has a ready answer for everything because they believe in a small, easily explained God. I have had to become content with mystery — a lot of mystery — because the God I worship is too immense and great for human comprehension.

He is also a loving Father whose tenderness and intimacy continues to break my heart — in the best of ways. He’s the great, awesome Creator of the universe, full of power and might, powerful beyond all understanding…and He’s my Papa, my Daddy, my Abba.

I can’t wrap my brain around that, but it’s true.

Last night I was furious at Piper. Today I want to weep for Him. If only God would wreck his theology the way He wrecked mine!

Today, my prayer is that you — and each reader of my blog — would encounter the real, living God, in a new and fresh way.

Why I changed my mind about the confederate flag

I was going to stay out of this whole hooplah. It hits close to home, and I didn’t want to offend people that I love and care for on either side of the debate. At the same time, I decided I should, at the very least, show respect to both sides by listening. I read articles online. I watched, while it was being live-streamed, the rally held recently in South Carolina, demanding that the flag be removed from the state capital. I realized that I had never really listened so carefully before, and that I had only heard misrepresentations of the “anti-flag” arguments.

After that, I thought I understood. Now I realize that, because of the huge holes in my education — especially about the Civil War — I really didn’t understand the half of it. It was time for me to hear from the leaders and founders of the Confederacy, rather than from its modern-day spokespeople. It was time that I allowed history to speak for itself.

From the “Corner-stone” Speech delivered by Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861:

 The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

I felt it only proper to quote in its context the part that was enough to convince me:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not proud of that.

The wife’s role | Rethinking marriage

One would think that, after all the books, articles, and blog posts that I’ve read on the topic of marriage over the years, both faith-based and secular, that I would not be brought up short by something said in passing, something that should have been obvious to me years ago, but sadly wasn’t.

It was at, of all places, a conference on the issue of sex trafficking. One of the speakers, after he was introduced, in turn introduced his wife and proudly announced that they had been married for over 11 months — and he even announced the weeks, days, and hours! He made a few other remarks that, coupled with his obvious joy and enthusiasm, let us know that he not only loved his wife very much, but deeply respected her as well. Then he offered some advice to the unmarried men: “Find a wife who will challenge you to be a better man!”

He went on to give an excellent, dynamic talk, but those introductory words, not even meant for me, hit me hard.

Then, more recently, I saw this:

If I were to die today, I don’t think my husband could say that about me — that he is a better person for having been married to me. I haven’t challenged him. That makes me really sad, and disappointed in myself.

Of course, I could come up with all sorts of excuses and reasons and justifications and explanations for why that is. I could, for example, blame some of the ridiculous books and articles I’ve read. For example, there was the one that insisted that, if my husband made a disastrously poor decision and asked for my advice in how to deal with the terrible fallout, I was to smile sweetly and submissively and lob this passive-agressive insult at him: “Oh, I’m sure you’ll make the right decision, dear!” Luckily, I’m not that passive-agressive, nor self-controlled, nor submissive. But, I read enough of that nonsense, and too much of the not-so-extreme advice that I needed to treat my husband’s ego as some fragile flower, and accept everything about him, that “challenging” him would sinful and disrespectful. In fact, even admitting that he might have room for improvement was questionable!

It’s not just the books. The truth is, I probably wouldn’t have been so taken in by the “my dear Rebecca, you will never live up to the ideal of godly womanhood because you just don’t have what it takes” messages if it weren’t for my own issues and the over-all dynamic in our marriage.

But those are all excuses and the bottom line is, I’m without excuse.

Contrary to all the nonsense out there, no husband — no matter how wonderful and godly he may be — has obtained perfection in loving his wife as Christ loves the Church, nor is he infallible and thus worthy of being submitted to without question. Nor is any grown man so weak and fragile that his wife needs to prop him up and dare not question him lest his precious ego dissolve and he crumple into a little heap on the ground — or whatever it is we wives are supposed to be afraid of happening to the poor dears if we don’t treat them with kid gloves.

There is a teaching out there that our role as “helpmeet” is to help our husband fulfill his “vision”. If I had a dollar for every wife who has told me that she would love to help her husband fulfill his vision if he just had one, or who complained that her husband’s vision seemed to be watching as much TV as possible, I could probably finance at least one woman’s vision. (I have a sneaking suspicion that far more women than men have some sort of “vision” for their lives.) But apparently we are supposed to sit around, praying and waiting for our husband to come up with his “vision”. I guess it’s supposed to hit him while he’s busy at work, while he’s commuting, or during a commercial break. Nagging doesn’t seem to help.

If we read the Bible more, we wouldn’t come up with such nonsense, nor would we be taken in by it.

I look at this differently now. There are certain things that the Bible makes clear are what God desires of all of us who want to follow Him. We can challenge — which is different from nagging — and encourage our husbands in their pursuit of God. There are things that are required of husbands. How will our husbands know if they are loving us like Christ loves the Church if we never communicate to them when they succeed and when they fall short?

All too often, we get caught up in marriage as an authority structure or hierarchical relationship. We forget that we are supposed to be “one flesh”. I think that, in many cases, those of us who are wives understand and long for intimacy (as in real intimacy, not a code word for sex) much more than our husbands do. We can either buy into the cultural notion that “guys just aren’t wired for intimacy” and treat our husbands like neanderthals or boys — or we can treat them with respect, like equals, like our other halves, and encourage them to stop fearing vulnerability, to open their hearts to real love, and to become better men. We can hold them accountable to obeying the clear commands of Scripture, and not look the other way when our husbands compromise their integrity or purity. We can challenge and encourage them to become the men God wants them to be, strong and courageous men who allow God, rather than culture, to define manhood.

After thirty years of marriage, I’m finally starting to do what I should have been doing from day one.

I was wrong about date nights

It’s not that I was entirely wrong. I still don’t believe that couples need to leave their kids with babysitters once a week, lest their marriages be doomed. Nor do I think we should be trying to recapture the early, pre-marriage days of our relationship, when we were not only younger but far more immature and selfish, didn’t know each other as well, and hopefully — if we followed Biblical morality — weren’t having sex. Why go backwards?

However, there are some things I was seriously wrong about, and those are things that the best of the “date night” advocates are trying to get at. I’m addressing this to the wives, because…well, because I am one.

1. Intimacy is important, and it doesn’t just happen. You need to make room for it. By this, I mean real intimacy; I’m not just using the word as a code or euphemism for sex. It takes time, and a willingness to be open and vulnerable with each other, to build and maintain the level of intimacy that should be found in a truly healthy marriage. Otherwise it’s too easy to become harried co-parents passing each other like two ships in the night, whose conversations are mostly about babies and business.

2. Husbands aren’t just being immature and selfish, or child-haters, if they miss the “fun” person we used to be, or that they hoped we’d be, when we married. Unless you married a really irresponsible jerk, he doesn’t want to quit his job, sell the kids to the gypsies, and run off with you on some crazy adventure. But he might want you to play with him — however that might like look for the both of you — and to be his recreational companion once in a while. He might want to know that he can still make you laugh, that your life is not all drudgery and duty, and that there is still a fun sparkle in your eyes especially for him to enjoy. He might just want to see you happy, and to know it’s because of him.

3. Some husbands get lonely, and rely on our friendship more than we realize. This can be confusing if your husband’s friendship style is waaaaay different than yours. I was shocked to read a study showing that the majority of happily married men considered their wives their best friends, while the wives usually considered someone else their best friends. As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom whose husband was usually busily involved in his business and in church ministry plus meeting weekly with a prayer partner for most of our marriage, it was easy for me to think my husband’s life was filled with people and rich relationships while I was isolated and starved for adult conversation. Yes, my husband was surrounded by people all day, but that did not meet his deeper needs for relationship. We would have both done things differently if we had realized that.

4. Marriage should be our priority human relationship. After all, we took vows with this dude. That doesn’t mean we sacrifice our children on the altar of marriage. We don’t have to do silly, rude things like couch time to let everyone know they are second, third, or fourth fiddle to us. It doesn’t mean we should spend more time with our husbands than our children, or that we can’t have a girls’ night out, or that we must not ever do anything without our husbands. Marriage should never be an idol. Neither should any husband. But it’s an extremely important relationship, not just because of the vows, but because it’s supposed to be a living analogy of Christ and the Church. So we better treat our marriage with respect (and the same goes for the children produced by it).

5. Marriage books are full of nonsense. But I already knew that. Of course, they are not all 100% rubbish, but we would do well to remember a few important things: a) most, if not all, of them were written by people who have never met you or your husband; b) most, if not all, of them are written by people you would never, ever want to be married to; c) authors of marriage books have their own issues and baggage just like everyone else; d) the more authoritative and dogmatic the author, the quicker you should toss his/her book on the scrap heap; e) too many marriage books are written by middle or upper class Americans who assume we all have enough discretionary income to spend on babysitters, romantic dinners, fancy lingerie, hotel weekends, and vacations without the kids; f) just as God created us all different and doesn’t want us all to look and act exactly alike, He doesn’t want all marriages to look and act exactly alike; g) marriage is first and foremost about becoming one — not erasing anyone, but becoming a whole that is greater than the individual parts — so don’t take anyone seriously who starts telling you marriage is like the military, or like a business, or like a sports team, or like any other wacky thing God never intended it to be.

6. You are neither a sinner nor a failure if you need time to relax and rejuvenate. Even Jesus withdrew for times with His Father. We need intimacy with our Heavenly Father. We need intimacy with our husbands, however that may look in each of our marriages. And we need a certain amount of intimacy with good friends. Those things are important and valuable…and we don’t need to pretend we are supermoms who are above human needs and desires. We need each other…and our husbands need us.

7. Marriages have seasons, and what works in one may not work in another. We need to cut ourselves some slack. Alone time with our husbands will not be our major priority when we have a newborn, nor should it. Going broke hiring babysitters, or stressing out over what mayhem the kids are engaging in without us, is not a marriage-building exercise, no matter what anyone tries to tell you.

8. We need to do what works for us. Even though I rejected the notion that my marriage would shrivel up and die if I didn’t jump through all the stressful, exhausting hoops a weekly date night would have required when the kids were little, I still thought we needed a weekly something. So I tried date nights at home and a bunch of other ideas I found in books or online, and they all went over like a lead balloon. In my misguided zeal, I forgot to do the most important thing. It never dawned on me to say to my husband, “Honey, I want us to have the best marriage possible, and to become closer to each other. What kind of things do you think would nurture and strengthen our marriage? And what kind of things would you enjoy doing together?”