While I explain my limited understanding of this thing called Calvinism, my sister studies me intently. After a moment of thought, she replies with characteristic bluntness, “Hmm. It makes God sound like a real a**hole.”
We laugh, and I agree, but it sticks with me.
Then I read Micah Murray’s brilliant blog post, and he says the same thing:
I believe God is love. But all too often, Christians pay lip service to a God of love while also arguing for theology that makes God an a**hole.”
It’s why I’ve been so afraid to address the topic. Because I usually save my explosions of profanity like “a**hole” for when somebody cuts me off in traffic.
I’ve read articles, blog posts, and Facebook tirades coming from so many different directions. They leave me feeling as flummoxed as a rookie mother trying to decide whether to Ferberize or babywear her newborn. All the opinionated extremists are shouting back and forth at each other, and I can’t seem to find a quiet enough place to acquaint myself fully with my own thoughts.
I’m not a theologian. Many of the doctrine debaters are scholars who’ve spent loads more time in religious studies than I ever will. They’ve been to seminary and read more scripture and can point to more Bible verses than I can.
But the beauty of being human and of being a follower of Jesus, embodied with His Holy Spirit, is that I get to make my own decisions about how I think of God.
That means that yes, I struggle with parts of the Bible.
Because quite honestly, there are scriptures that make God appear mean and angry. And that just doesn’t measure up to the God I’ve come to know through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and yes, even through the loving Father God revealed in the Word.
Calvinism or the Neo-Reformation is talked about a lot these days in religious circles, and the most basic idea behind it is that God is sovereign, that He makes all the decisions, and that you as a believer have no say in any of it because of your total depravity. He chose you (or didn’t choose you) to be one of the elect before you were born, and everything that happens in your life — good or bad — is masterfully orchestrated by Him as a way to bring glory to Himself. As a believer, your job is to feel incredibly lucky that you were chosen to be included in His master plan.
Normally, I could look at those tenets in writing, shrug them off and go on about my happy way, thankful that I’m not so narrow-minded.
But it’s the approach toward disability that makes me come unglued.
One of the biggest, most effective disability ministries in the U.S. is at noted Calvinist John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church. They are doing remarkable things. I subscribe to their disability blog, The Works of God, and I’ve read and watched incredible testimonies from Bethlehem church members Krista Horning and Greg Lucas (both are definitely worth viewing if you have the time!)
I’m encouraged mightily by Bethlehem’s disability ministry. I’ve read John Piper’s e-book Disability and the Sovereignty of God, and I’ve listened to the corresponding sermons on John chapter 9. There is so much good theology and encouragement and validation of the love of Christ in all of it.
So I want to agree, I really do. Because my heart is soft toward those struggling with disabilities. It’s where God has placed me, where He’s called me, among the disabled and their caregivers.
But I keep running into the same brick wall and I just can’t get past it.
You see, the Calvinists argue (and they are persuasive in their use of scripture to back it up) that disability is not just allowed by God — but that it is actually designed by God, on purpose, as a means of displaying His glory.
In other words, according to Calvinist theology, my son’s diagnosis of autism is something to be celebrated.
Here are some of the key verses:
Then the Lord said to (Moses), “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11)
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
I must admit my own confusion. Did God give my child autism? I wish I could tie all my thoughts about these scriptures up into a coherent statement and put a nice red bow on top. But I can’t.
I keep hitting that brick wall of “God’s good design in disability.”
Photo credit: Tobias Schlitt via Flickr
If God is good, if He is a God who is the very embodiment of love itself, a God who willingly sacrifices Himself for His wayward creations–then why would He peer down from His lofty seat in the heavens, create a child and then proclaim “Let there be autism!”? Or Down Syndrome? Or blindness? Or cerebral palsy? And then sit back, call it all “good” and revel in how His glory would be displayed through these disabilities?
The very idea makes God look petty. Like a little boy with a magnifying glass aimed at an anthill, making random decisions about which insect he will burn with his sun-laser today.
It makes God sound like — well, like an a**hole — who needs to prove to the universe over and over and over again through these pawns called humans that He is great and sovereign and mighty.
As if the Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean and the rainforests weren’t enough already.
What are your thoughts on God and disability?
I’m not done. I’ll be sharing more of my opinion next week. Subscribe to my blog to make sure you don’t miss the next post!
As always, I welcome differing viewpoints in the comments — as long as we keep it civil!
Read Part Two of this post here.