As Cool As the Other Side of a Calvinist
If you know Calvinists, you probably know some bad ones. The stereotypes aren’t fair, but they don’t come out of nowhere. Calvinists are “cold,” “heady,” and “condescending.” They think they have it all figured out and everyone else is blind, slow, or stubborn. They’re so lost in their books, they’re not interested in the needs around them. And they’ve somehow misplaced Christ, but are quite content to follow John Calvin. Unfair, but not uncommon enough either.
But what if there’s another side to Calvinism — a real side, with flesh and love and humility and a living, breathing passion for Jesus? We’re not doubting you’ve had bad experiences with so-called Calvinists, but whether the experiences you’ve had are really examples of true Calvinism. If all your encounters have been bad, or others’ stories so off-putting they’ve kept you away entirely, we ask you to give us just four minutes with this video above. It’s the poet himself reading, with subtitles so you can follow the words carefully. (There is also a version with multiple readers which we released last week.)
The poem is an opportunity to hear from a man, who has lived these truths, and lived by them, for more than forty years. But more importantly it’s an invitation to meet his big, sovereign, gracious God — a God big enough for the hard things you face in this life, big enough to make sense of a long, old, complex book like the Bible, and big enough for everyday life in a broken world.
A God Big Enough for Our Bible
The Bible is a big, complicated, sometimes downright confusing book. Paul wrote, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). If we are to understand the divine and eternal words God has given us in Scripture, we need help — God’s help. That says a lot about the kind of book we’re holding. It’s not always easy reading.
But even while dealing with spiritual hurdles, the book itself is unusual and difficult. Sixty-six books, more than three dozen authors, spanning hundreds of years. Countless wars, incredible miracles, massive murders, unthinkable promises. And over it all, an all-knowing, all-powerful, always present One. And he’s made it clear that he has given us this big, complicated, sometimes downright confusing Book in order that we might know him (John 5:39; Psalm 119:2).
So he has to be big enough to create, sustain, reign, and hold together a crazy story and history like Christianity’s. We should ask ourselves, does our understanding of God — his love and wisdom and power — does it leave us embarrassed of God in certain passages of the Bible? Do we feel like we have to explain him out of evil and suffering? If so, maybe we haven’t seen the fullness of who God really is in Scripture.
A God Big Enough for Our Brokenness
A lot of people reject the God of Calvinism because they can’t imagine a good God being sovereign over the awful things in their lives. Chronic disease. Loss of a child. Rape. Natural disaster. Abuse. How could a loving Father allow such tragic things to happen to me, my family, or seemingly innocent people around the world?
But what if we have not truly known the sweetness of surviving suffering until we’ve met a God big enough to cause, stop, or deliver you through it all? Too many people want to trade away God’s power to keep him from being culpable for our pain. But he never asks for that in the Bible. He simply asks us to trust that he is carrying it all out for the best, lasting good of those who love him (Daniel 4:35; Proverbs 16:33; Romans 8:28).
With the God of the Bible, none of our suffering is outside of his control, and therefore none of it is meaningless, but it is working real, full, lasting good for us forever. Instead of pretending God’s not available or able to do anything in the tragedy, he wants our weaknesses and pain and questions to lead us to radical dependence on him — on his sovereign power and faithfulness to his promises. He’s not just an EMT that’s first to the scene of the tragedy, but for everyone who believes in him, he’s the life and breath and strength and heartbeat that’s with us and working for us before, during, after, and in the hardship.
A God Big Enough for Our Everyday
If Calvinism isn’t relevant for our life today — even the mundane details of our life — we should reject and ignore it. Sadly, I think most people make that judgment without ever really asking the question. What the Bible and the video above show so beautifully is that the sovereignty of God and his love for sinners relates to absolutely everything we do. Calvinism causes a hopeful, hard-working complete dependence on God and an undivided devotion to his glory in every area of life — marriage, parenting, school, vocation, failure, recreation, even death.
So our prayer with this poem and our ministry is that you would meet a big God, a God who can rule your life and world and leave you with your very last breath saying, “Gain!”
Resources on Calvinism:
2013 Course on Calvinism from John Piper (6-part seminar)
Sign up to receive a daily digest of the Desiring God Blog.