Grace is shocking, if you think about it, because by definition someone gets something unearned.
But in Calvinism, it seems, grace becomes even more shocking. Adrian Warnock posts a quote from Jonathan Edwards that expresses predestination quite well. You are saved by grace, someone else isn’t. Edwards notes that “although all things are exactly equal in both cases” one person has success which is denied to another.
Edwards’ statement is fairly straightforward as a statement of predestination. But Adrian’s comment is what caught my attention. He says:
…If this notion does not make you grateful to God that YOU should be so blessed by him, I don’t know what will.
Now this is what gets me. What’s shocking to me is the level of narcissism that I see in that statement. I’m headed for heaven, and I’m terribly grateful to God, and it doesn’t bother me at all that many other people have been equally arbitrarily consigned to hell. Because, of course, that is what being “denied success” means in this case.
I recall having this discussion with a Hebrew student who simply told me that it bothered him as well, but he believed it was the truth. Whether he liked it or not was immaterial. And indeed whether I like something or not is quite immaterial. I could easily understand that student’s view.
What I don’t understand is the frequently heard expressions of great joy. It is almost as though one is living under a tyrant, and arbitrarily the secret police will arrest some, but not others. The ones who haven’t been arrested can express great thankfulness for the fact that they are allowed to live, due to no actions of their own. But somewhere out there others are suffering, also through no fault of their own.
Under either set of circumstances, I hope I would not be indifferent. I hope that the joy of my escape would be tempered by my knowledge of those who did not. If I believed that God was arbitrarily sending me to heaven, but at the same time was going to arbitrarily send others to hell, I believe I would find it would drive me insane, and I would find it impossible to love such a God or to regard such a God as loving.
I have found over the years that Calvinists don’t fit my stereotypes of them. Just as they do not sit down and neglect Christ-like living because they have already been predestined, nor do they neglect evangelism because God has already made his choice, so they are not, in fact narcissists, whatever may seem to be implied by their doctrine.
Nonetheless I cannot fit this doctrine with any notion of a loving God. And yes, I do mean using a scriptural definition of love. It is, in fact, the description of a tyrant, and not even a benevolent despot.
I guess it’s a good thing I also see little scriptural or logical reason to believe it!