Anyone who’s followed this blog knows quite well that I have been (at times, overly) anti-Calvinistic in my writings. I confess the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition, and am sympathetic to the Open Theism view.
Calvinist say that God determines all things. Arminians say that God simply foreknows all things. Open Theist say that God simply knows all things.
This is an over simplification of three very complex systemized theological systems.
The problem which is a hard knot for any heir of the scholastic-Enlightened-Modern eras to swallow is to accept the fact that God cannot be systemized. Calvinist’s are usually the first to scream “mystery” – how God can determine all things and yet not be responsible for sin. By they are also quick to find a way to jam the many biblical passages which do not fit with their systemized view of God into that system.
But the problem is not a Calvinist one alone. Arminians are guilty of the same thing. They have to be. They have no choice. Oh, and so are Open Theists. They cannot escape the problem either. The reason is that these are three theological systems which seek to make the best sense that they can out of the biblical evidence available. The problem is that the biblical evidence is not so settled. Not so neat.
Why take this deviation from my daily musings through the bible in 90 readings? I’m not trying to take a jab at Calvinism (or Arminianism or Open Theism either). But I can only ignore the dilemma presented to these systems by the Old Testament portryal of God’s interaction with creation by either not being aware of the tension, choosing not to wrestle with the tension, or trying to find a way to escape the tension. One thing I cannot do is avoid the fact that the scriptures present a tension which will keep these opposing systems of theology in dialogue until the day Christ returns.
I am coming to a place where I am nearly ready to embrace a concept that Walter Brueggemann refers to as “An Unsettingly God“. That God cannot be made to fit into a theological systems. That what Calvinists routinely call “a mystery” really is, in fact, a mystery. What makes God unsettling is that he cannot be made to fit into our “static categories of interpretation” – any of them.
Today’s reading has presented several points of contact for how the scriptures portray this unsettling God of ours.
First, does God omni-determine all things? When a kid on the street horks a big one and spits over his left should causing his mucus to hit the curb, to paraphrase Steve Urkle, “Did God do that?” When a tsunami slams against the shores of Indonesia, “Did God do that?” If mildew accumulates on the roof of your home, “Did God do that?”
Well, according to Leviticus 14:33, the answer to that last question may be “yes”:
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mildew in a house in that land…”
The text goes on to describe how the priest is to go and inspect the house. The Lord goes to such detail as to even describe what color and texture to look for, a “greenish or reddish depressions that appear to be deeper than the surface of the wall” [vs. 37]. The priest is then to go and close the door for seven days. The point, of course, is that the Lord himself is the one who claims to put mildew in the home.
Now that is what the bible says. But to explore the question of how God puts the mildew there (what level of involvement does he have, is it direct, is it indirect, what does that mean, et cetera?) Is where the theological systems part ways.
But lets take a series of other examples… perhaps we may invoke nearly every verse in the book of Leviticus! The book is essentially a series of commands and instructions on how to remain holy. That fact alone discounts the idea that God omni-determines all things (unless we are to accept God as being “non-sensical”. Anyone want to make that charge?). In other words, the scriptures presuppose that God does not sovereignly determine all things. Here are some examples where this is obvious:
- “Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law…” Lev 18:15
- “Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife…” Lev 18:16
- “Do not have sexual relations with your wife’s sister…” Lev 18:18
- “Do not have sexual relations with your neighbour’s wife…” Lev 18:20
If God sovereignly determined who would and who wouldn’t have sex with whoever, these commands would not make any sense. And the list can extend the whole breathe of scripture. Generally this is the Arminian response to the Calvinists proof-texting.
But now let us take a look at another passage in which these two concepts, in some sort of mystery – work together. The text is Leviticus 20:7:
Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.
Which is it? Are we to consecrate ourselves and be holy, or are we made holy by the Lord? And if we are made holy by the Lord, why are we told to consecrate ourselves to be holy?
This unsettling depiction of God compounds upon itself. “I am the holy who makes them holy” [Leviticus 21:23]. “You are to be holy to me” [Leviticus 20:26]. “Do not profane my holy name… I am the Lord who makes you holy” [Leviticus 22:32]. Today’s readings are filled with these back and forth’s. These… unsettling passages that at first seem to support an open view of God or a closed view of God, only to swing the other way when we least expect it. We hate it. And so we make these passages fit into the theological systems we’ve come to idolize.
God, help us to accept you as your word portrays you. Forgive us for folding you into our systems of thought. Please transform us into yours!