Yesterday in Sunday School a Single Adult (“with out the Y” for Young) member of the Branch brought up some interesting thoughts. He prefaced his comment by claiming to be somewhat of a Calvinist (and yes, I could hear a collective ‘huh?’ from the rest of the class). He then proceeded to make the claim that a lot of our discussion of free agency served to dumb down our understanding of God and the role he plays in our lives. I’m not sure that this dear brother had a clear direction for his comment, but some part of me understood and his attempts to communicate those thoughts have given me fodder for contemplation today.
Here’s some of what I’ve discovered and my process for getting there:
- First: “What’s a Calvinist?”
According to calvinistcorner.com “Calvinism, also known as Reformed theology, is a system of biblical interpretation that focuses on the supreme sovereignty of God, His majesty, His holiness, etc. It relates this to man's fallen, sinful nature. Because of the great chasm between God and man and because of man's sinfulness, God must predestine people into salvation...or none would be saved. Therefore, salvation is the work of God and we are the recipients of His gracious election.”
- Ewww. That sounds like we’re taking the free agency and accountability completely out of things.
Maybe a person could take the reasoning that to that extreme. But just suppose we really are at the other extreme end of “we have the complete ability to choose the course for our lives”. Do we really believe that? Of course we don’t. No matter how hard we try and how many things we do right, sometimes things just don’t work out. And to a certain extent we are all still a product of our environment, up bringing, etc.
- So what? Why do I care about this?
If we are only concerned about the choices we are currently making, then we in sometimes small and sometimes big ways negate the Divinity that we have developed in partnership with God, but we also miss the advantage of understanding how God uses a variety of influences, situations, and processes to help us grow.
In another example from this Sunday, a sister in Relief Society was sharing a time when she was feeling particularly down about her husband’s travel schedule for work. While complaining to her husband (via Skype/internet) about how hard it was to have him gone, she told about realizing how she was being selfish. After all, she had her children with her, and he didn’t have anyone or anything but his work. Selfish? It sounded about right. Completely accurate? No. A classic example of dumbing down God and one’s self. It certainly works to help one move quickly away from a poor choice. But in order to keep making good choices, there has to be more depth.
- Ummm, OK . . .
Another example is the almost cliché, “I will go and do the things the Lord hath commanded” of 1 Nephi 3:7. This phrase really makes for a great Obedience rallying cry. But this cry is empty without the phrase that follows it “for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Without it we will either succeed or fail, there is no room for mercy and personal growth.
- So . . .
The moral of the story is: Be careful with simple answers and rallying cries. Be prayerful and seek to Know God, in all of his wonder and majesty, through your obedience and studying and pondering. Don’t take too much on your own shoulders; God plays a bigger role in things than we sometimes give Him credit for.