If you have followed by blog since the beginning, this is a story you have heard at least in part before. This post is part of a three part series I am doing on three defining moments on my faith. These stories will come out in consecutive days.
People frequently ask me why I am no longer a Calvinist. I repeat the same story I have told here on the blog. I did not become convinced from scripture. I still believe we can make a good case for Calvinism in scripture. This always puzzles Biblical literalists. “You mean you came up a belief without consulting the Bible? Herasy!”
When a missionary went to one village, he stopped over at a house and asked a family, “Have you ever heard of Jesus?” “No, who’s he? He doesn’t live around here,” they answered. At my church we had maps along the walls of whole districts without any believers. This was the area my kids and I prayed for every day.
Back in my town my friends would often tell me they had nothing against the idea of God. Buddhists are pretty Kantian. They believe we can never prove or disprove the existence of God, so most prefer not to focus on who put us here but instead focus on getting out. They found the America’s desire for eternal life, let alone certainty, odd. “Why do we need to know where we will be after death, when I don’t even know where I will be next week,” they would say, and then sit down for yet another work break.
Calvinists teach that we are born in darkness, born children of the devil, born dead to trespasses in sin. They teach that we are like Adam and Eve in the Bible. God calls us, and we hide. And we hide good. We are ashamed of God, so we hide. Then we turn back and rebell against the creator.
“No, who’s he? He doesn’t live around here.” That stuck in me. These villagers were not in rebellion, not in the Calvinist sense. They had never heard of him, and those who had (like my good friends) were just puzzled by the western need to have all the answers.
Back when I was a Calvinst I used to hang out at the bookstore on Friday and Saturday nights with a group of interesting people. They would often say, “If God is real, I would rather burn in hell than worship in heaven.” This confirmed in my mind the idea that only Christians desire God, and that everyone else is resistent to the idea of God, so much so that they would rather burn. If you think about it, that’s a pretty heavy statement.
So when I was explaining this to someone the other night, I thought of something else. I love Jesus, and I’d also rather live in hell than worship God if God dumps his wrath out on mournful sinners in hell. For the first time in the life, I actually understand what the atheists from that bookstore were trying to tell me. Worshiping God is noble, only if God is good. Much of the atheists “hatred” towards God is not actually at God but at religion.
Calvinism at least made hell tolerable for me. I looked at my friends at the bookstore, and I could say, “They don’t want Jesus.” Hell was a place they wanted. So it didn’t seem like a punishment as much as just a default place. It seemed like God was saying, “Hey, if you don’t want to worship me. I have this alternative place,” so to speak, except the alternative place does damage our souls because sin does that. But still, this was a default place for people who do not want to be in God’s presence, I believed. I could live with this, so I was a Calvinist.
All this, of course, came with the huge assumption that unbelievers don’t want to be in God’s presence.
When I moved to SE Asia, I met people who had never heard of Jesus and who certaintly did not dislike him. Suddenly my mind saw people like the rich man crying out over the abyss, “just let me go back and tell my family,” and “just give me a drop of water,” only this time it came with names and faces, names and faces who confirmed for me that they did want to be in God’s presence. They wanted out of the hell, and God just wasn’t answering.
And so it slowly faded. So slowly I didn’t even notice. But one day I awoke from my slumber and realized. My faith in Calvinism was just gone.
Stay tuned for part 2: Hint: Hell followed. (and a story I have not actually told here on the blog before, I don’t think.)