My friend, and fellow seminarian at Biblical, Mike Landsman, responds to my post “Why I Haven’t (Yet) Subscribed to the Reformed God”.
I am probably not the right person to write about Reformed theology because technically I’m not Reformed. I never grew up Reformed and never heard of Reformed theology until about two years ago.
I thought I was a deep thinking Christian because I didn’t hold much of the Charismatic doctrine I was raised in and because I read Phillip Yancey books.
Then one day I stumbled ass-backwards into material by John Piper, Tim Keller, and R.C. Sproul. It felt like I was picked up and thrown into the deep end of the pool. I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about it, but I have been increasingly turning to it for comfort and for a foundation on which to build.
On the surface Reformed theology can sometimes appear to be concerned with doctrinal minutiae at the expense of everything else. I believe this is unwarranted. Luther, Calvin, and other leaders would send people out to plant churches all over Europe, often in places of intense persecution.
Also it must be understood that historically the Roman Church’s magisterium had a thousand years to add unbiblical practice on top of unbiblical practice. Reformed theology is so detailed because it had to be.
Reformed theology is detailed not because no one had anything better to do then navel gaze and think about aspects of God’s sovereignty instead of helping poor people. They had to study, pray, teach, and catechize. They searched the Scriptures and went back to the church fathers and had to formulate doctrines, such as God’s sovereignty, in order to counter the theology of Rome.
Reformed theology makes us, or should make us, uncomfortable. It makes us keenly aware of our spiritual state outside of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. We are all sinners, all deserving of death, and the only thing that differentiates us from others is Jesus.
That drives us, or should drive us, to share the gospel and to talk about the love and grace of God. Anyone who sits back in comfort feeling like they know they are part of the chosen is probably not regenerate in the first place since pride is a work of the flesh.
I think the big issue here is a misunderstanding of the love of God.
We have this pop-culturally shaped understanding of a God who is love, who excuses all sin, and lets all bad behavior or sin go because of grace. Our understanding of God’s love has to start from Scripture not from how we think God’s love can or should operate.
If you want to see God’s love look to the cross.
If you want to see God’s wrath look to the cross.
If you want to see God’s endgame for all things look to the cross and the resurrection.
The God who holds all things, rules all things, and has a purpose in all things is infinitely preferable to a god who responds capriciously, or a god who acts in the way we think is fair.
We like to throw around the idea that God causes all things to work towards good but we always stop short of reading the rest of the verse that explains that all things are promised to work for the good only of those he has called.
The reason why I love the Reformed ideal of God is because I believe the Reformed ideal of God is the God of the Bible. The god I was taught to believe in was a god who was subject to the whims of man and who waited for man to make decisions before reacting to man’s choices.
Like Caleb mentioned in an earlier blogpost, God is wild and untamed, but good. And only in Reformed theology do we see a picture of an untamable sovereign God who is good and who does good even in the face of the most dire of circumstances.
Praise his name he gave us the Scriptures so we can see his character for what it truly is and base our knowledge of him on his self-revelation and not on personal experiences or philosophically based explanations of his character.
I wish I could be Reformed.
Reformed theology works for people who have decent family lives, a decent social status and lack a consistent dose of pain. It works in Geneva.
It works for people who can attend their nice church buildings, gather at warmhearted church picnics and listen to a Ph.D. teach Sunday School class while they sip on their freshly brewed cup of coffee and swallow such ideas as God’s meticulous sovereignty.
It allows the exceptional people in life to feel even more comfortable than they already feel knowing that they are part of the chosen.
They can accept concepts like God’s three wills, and just brush off His mysterious will as a misnomer in their otherwise grand theology. They like a God who is in control because they’ve come to reflect Him in their societal sphere of influence.
What about guys like me … who help 250 families a year bury their loved ones. Guys who somehow can’t seem to shake off the death that has become a part of my life.
How do I accept the Reformed concept of God when I often struggle with depression? The depression that makes me socially awkward … friends are hard to keep. How do I understand such ideas as predetermination when I just embalmed a child?
Am I to understand all of the tragedy, suicide, pain, hopelessness, car wrecks, mangled bodies, dead children, murders as part of the grand, mysterious will of God?
How can I just dismiss the idea that God is somehow involved … maybe even responsible … for all the junk I deal with on a daily basis?
I’m not comfortable enough. My life isn’t isolated enough. I can’t accept the Reformed view of God … I see too much death.
Death stairs me down like I would imagine a lion looks at his prey. And if I look at the Reformed view of God, the only conclusion I can arrive at is this: God created the lion, made it hunt me down and, after it had finished off it’s victim, told it to hunt again.
A God like this makes me prefer atheism. I’d rather have no God than one that lies to me. A God that tells me He’s love and then in an under-the-table type fashion has his hand in pain, death and evil. That’s a God that I can’t trust as long as I’m here.
Maybe if I had a better life, I could become reformed. Maybe when I retire from this business I’ll be able to pick up Piper. Until then I’m searching for a better perspective on the God I’ve come to trust.
Few Christians are familiar with the term “orthopathos.”
We’re familiar with orthodoxy, which is “thinking like Jesus”. And many of us hope to be “orthodox.”
Some of us have heard of the term orthopraxy, which is “acting like Jesus”.
But orthopathos, which means “feeling the feelings of Jesus” is an idea that few of us are familiar with because so few of us believe He actually feels.
It’s said that we become like the object/person we worship. And when you worship God, you become like who or what you think He is.
Do you worship God as patient?
Do you worship God as just?
Do you worship God as love?
You will eventually become all these things if you believe they are apart of God’s character.
What happens when you see God as immutable … as unchangeable?
What happens when you see God as impassible … as emotionless?
So many Christian traditions believe that God is utterly unable to change and utterly unaffected by emotion. Should it be a surprise that so many of us become unmoved and emotionally repressed?
So, when we say “orthopathos” most Christians think that the “proper way to feel like God” is to feel nothing at all. To never grieve, to never have joy, to never get angry … because the One they worship, the One they are trying to reflect has no emotion Himself.
The ultimate example of orthopathos is found on the cross. The prophet Isaiah, in what is perhaps one of the more powerful prophetic utterances of the Old Testament writes,
“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering,
and familiar with pain. …
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities ….
This laying on of the iniquity, bearing of our suffering, this taking of our pain, this familiarity with pain, this man of suffering who took so much of the world’s grief into his heart that it’s recorded in Mark 13:34:
“”My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”.
Overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death!
This wasn’t Jesus being punished by the Father per se, but Jesus taking the heart of the Father in human form by seeing what God sees, acting as God would act and ultimately feeling like God feels. It was the ultimate act of representing the Father in human form!
And then, I believe, Jesus died, not from the wounds of the cross, but from the wounds of the heart.
Sure, we can begin to understand right thinking, we can begin to understand right action, but who can feel the heart of God and live?
Why don’t Christians feel sorrow? There’s a couple reasons: 1.) our theology doesn’t allow for it and so 2.), we think it’s unlike our God if we do so.
Wendell Berry’s famed literature character “Jayber Crow” states this:
I prayed to know in my heart His love for the world, and this was my most prideful, foolish, and dangerous prayer. It was my step into the abyss. As soon as I prayed it, I knew that I would die. I knew the old wrong and the death that lay in the world. Just a good man would not coerce the love of his wife, God does not coerce the love of His human creatures, not for Himself or for the world or for one another. To allow that love to exist fully and freely, He must allow it not to exist at all. His love is suffering. It is our freedom and His sorrow. …. And yet all the good I know is in this, that a man might so love this world that it would break his heart.
Some of us will feel God’s missional love for the world, but all of us will feel the sorrow of death. And it’s high time that we as Christians believe it’s okay to sorrow. It’s high time we believe it’s okay to weep, for when we do so we aren’t becoming unlike our God; we are, in fact, worshiping.
I was at a funeral the other day and the pastor boldly stated,
“God knew the exact day ‘Bob’ was going to die. He knew we’d be sitting here today, mourning ‘Bob’s death. Not only did God know when ‘Bob’ was going to die, but he knows the exact day … the exact hour … and the exact second that you’re going to meet him face to face.”
That’s a pretty bold statement.
I remember when I was young, I would often think to myself, “If God knows when I’m going to die, I wonder if he could tell me?”
He hasn’t told me yet … and I’m rather glad he hasn’t told me if he does indeed know.
I mean, can you imagine?
Can you imagine knowing the day, hour and second you’re doing to die? It might be depressing. Or it could cause us to live life up to the fullest. It could cause us to be the person we’ve always wanted to be, but could never find the motivation.
I think I’d put a countdown clock on my wall, that would display the amount of years, months, days and hours until my “Death Date”. Or maybe I wouldn’t want the clock … that might be rather unnerving.
It would certainly cause me to take out an insurance policy. If I knew I was going to die early, I could take out a huge insurance policy and let my wife live like Angelina Jolie after I die … she could adopt a whole country load of kids and buy that stretch limo HUMMER that she’s always wanted!
Or maybe I’d do everything in my power to beat death. Maybe on that specific day, I’d lock myself up in an atomic bomb shelter. Or maybe, I’d just check myself into a hospital the day before I’m supposed to bite the dust.
If you were sure God told you your death date, would you tell anybody else? I think I’d keep it quiet. For one, nobody would believe that God spoke directly to you … and they’d have an even harder time believing that he told you your date of demise.
Who knows what I’d do?
So, what do you think? Does God know your death date? Below is a little survey you can take.
It’s all anonymous, so even though many people might consider the last two or three options as heretical, if indeed you choose one of those “heretical options”, you’ll still be an anonymous heretic.
And, if you’ve thought about stuff like this before (God’s foreknowledge, etc.) and want to talk about it, I’ll be happy to engage ….
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