Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Morning Meds--Election

“Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; 
the Lord will hear me when I call.”

Not so long ago I said a few words after the wedding of a friend.  I thought I’d color the reception with some Midwestern silliness since our friend’s roots grow deeply into Iowa soil, and he was marrying—gasp!—a bona fide Southern Cal native, deserting the Plains for LA, a move which, if it didn’t happen so darn often, would be unthinkable.

Like me, the groom’s ethno-religious pedigree is Dutch Calvinist, so I made mention of that fact and then lamented his leaving the holy land for the hellish hedonism of Southern California, the only corner of the country that gets its direction upper-cased.

The woman who followed me among the speakers at the reception took off on the word “Calvinist” and delivered what some considered a tongue-lashing. The gist of her diatribe had to do with the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, a belief that, in her estimation, turns all of us, ipso facto, into theological Nazis, I guess.
I’d simply been trying to make people laugh, and I got a bona fide sermon based in doctrinal history, the old fracas between election and free will.  In that war, she kept no prisoners.  I got pole-axed for simply (and arrogantly) assuming I’d been chosen.  She was—and she made no bones about it—against the arrogant assumptions assumed to be the character of those who honestly believed in such rot as predestination.
Honestly, the Bible doesn’t prove a whole lot conclusively.  It tells a great and true story, but it doesn’t offer plain and simple answers.  If you want that, see Oprah.
It’s almost impossible to find a verse that is as vivid an argument for election as Psalm 4:3.  After a series of rhetorical questions designed to upbraid the “sons of men” in verse two, David shifts his rhetorical focus and returns to the command form of verse one, this time, however, raising his finger toward the sons of men at whom he’d just been ranting.  “You must know that the Lord selects his own,” he says, “and that he’ll listen to me,” implying, of course, that he (David) is among “his own.”
I’m sure I could find as strong a defense for the doctrine of election (or predestination) elsewhere in holy writ, but I’m also sure that I could also find as strong a defense for the doctrine of free will.  If the Bible were absolutely conclusive on that ancient theological battle, the battle wouldn’t be ancient.  God’s word has elbow room enough room for an awful lot of us.

But here’s the real kicker.  Just two verses before, David was demanding that God answer his prayers—in writer’s language, he was showing us that, in fact, God hadn’t really done that.  Now, with the force of those commands still roiling the air, he puffs his chest and tells (which is never as strong as shows) those who don’t believe, “Listen, chums, he’s chosen his own, I’m one of them, and he listens my prayer.”
Say, what?  He’d just shown us exactly the opposite.

I’m a Calvinist.  I confess—I believe in election.  But like David, I sometimes wonder if God is listening to my prayers.  I believe I’m his, but sometimes, like David, I confess that I wonder if he’s simply out of the office.
As I’ve said, you’ve got to love the humanity of all of this.

Praise his name. 


Anonymous said...

Jim, what a hysterical story. Trying to say something funny at a wedding reception--and actually doing no harm at all; if this groom was bona fide Midwestern Dutch Calvinist, then it would only make sense to have some fun with his move to California--and then to get tongue-lashed afterwards by another speaker. THAT's funny! Man, I wish I had been there. The real joke is on this woman, who didn't understand that a wedding reception requires a certain type of behaviour. Maybe that's what makes the wedding reception such a risky (but fun) thing; you get people who do things they shouldn't.
Great stuff. My wife--who met you once at Calvin College--will have a good laugh when I tell her this story.

Anonymous said...

Jokes about things that others have been abused by will tend to go over like lead balloons.

That old free-will/predestination thing is a false dilemma picked and teased to an existential and political crisis by people who for better or worse have a lot of blood on their hands as a result.

If you want a verse that serves as a trump card on the issue, it's Jesus saying that the Father wills that all people shall be saved. There are many others, but the institution of the eucharist as an act of unity among believers in Christ is also a key text, since there it is clearly not peripheral philosophical issues that defines the church whom Christ wills "to be one" in him and the Father "so that the world may believe" not in election but in Christ.