It’s not always about John Calvin; or, What’s God got to do, got to do with it?

There’s a lot of anti-Calvinism out there. I guess there’s also a lot of Calvinism.

People love bashing predestination. Or other Calvinist expressions of the essential importance of the sovereignty of God. And other people like promoting those things.

Closely related: there is much controversy over universalism—the idea that in the end, all will be saved. Some insist on the ultimate triumph of God’s love. Others point to biblical promises of divine judgment. Traditionalists are denounced as “infernalists” for holding to a doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. Calvinists are doubly damned: they are not just infernalists but also believe (at least the “double-decree” Calvinists”) that those who will suffer endless torment in hell were predestined to do so by God’s eternal decree: before they were ever born, they were consigned to that fate.

I hope it’s immediately obvious to anyone—even those who end up supporting it as doctrine—why this latter notion would be offensive to any human being with a shred of decency or empathy.

I will not settle any centuries-long doctrinal disputes here this morning. I will only point out this: read Psalm 44 below. If Israel dwells in safety, God did it. If Israel’s armies are routed, God did it. If they are slaughtered all day long, it is because God has forgotten them. God’s sovereignty is assumed.

Not sure whether King David wrote this psalm. John Calvin was quite sure he didn’t, thought it was from the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. At any rate I can guarantee that it was not written by John Calvin.

Do you see how the writer reflexively, automatically, attributes to God’s goodness anything and everything good that has happened to him? And do you see how he also reflexively, automatically attributes to God’s inscrutable (and lamentable!) decree anything bad that has happened to him?

This is not Calvinism. This is not even doctrine, at least not in the sense of an abstract propositional system over whose details one might argue this way or that. This is normal biblical piety. Normal theistic piety. This is normal prayer.

Christian scripture and the testimony of saints from all ages encourage, no, urge, you and me to live our lives—every day, every moment, though pain and pleasure, clouds and sunshine, consolation and desolation, riot and festival, sickness and health, birth and death—in conversation with our maker and redeemer. We thank God for every blessing. We seek God’s relief from every hardship.

Doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. Doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible to do what we can and should do. But we never for a moment believe that we are able to save—or damn—ourselves. We never say, in the words of William Ernest Henley pitifully benighted poem, “I am the master of my fate, / I am the captain of my soul.”

We always see God’s hand at work.
We always seek God’s face.

Psalm 44

We have heard with our ears, O God,
our fathers have told us,
what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.
How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them;
how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.
For they got not the land in possession by their own sword,
neither did their own arm save them:
but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance,
because thou hadst a favour unto them.
Thou art my King, O God:
command deliverances for Jacob.
Through thee will we push down our enemies:
through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.
For I will not trust in my bow,
neither shall my sword save me.
But thou hast saved us from our enemies,
and hast put them to shame that hated us.
In God we boast all the day long,
and praise thy name for ever. Selah.
But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame;
and goest not forth with our armies.
Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy:
and they which hate us spoil for themselves.
Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat;
and hast scattered us among the heathen.
Thou sellest thy people for nought,
and dost not increase thy wealth by their price.
Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours,
a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us.
Thou makest us a byword among the heathen,
a shaking of the head among the people.
My confusion is continually before me,
and the shame of my face hath covered me,
For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth;
by reason of the enemy and avenger.
All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee,
neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant.
Our heart is not turned back,
neither have our steps declined from thy way;
Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons,
and covered us with the shadow of death.
If we have forgotten the name of our God,
or stretched out our hands to a strange god;
Shall not God search this out?
for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long;
we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.
Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord?
arise, cast us not off for ever.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face,
and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust:
our belly cleaveth unto the earth.
Arise for our help,
and redeem us for thy mercies’ sake.

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