When I was in seminary a beloved professor asked our class why Reformed Christians (Calvinists) have a tendency to be stoical to the point of meanness. For some of us, it’s no more complicated than our sinful human nature showing through. But there may also be something in the Reformed viewpoint which has caused an unwarranted hardness…
Man is no match for the powers of nature which can strike in a moment and wipe away decades of achievement. Only the strongest steel girders held their own against Lake Pontchartrain during Hurricane Katrina. Wood, brick and concrete dissolved like so many sand castles at high tide. In the same way, unmoored souls flounder in the storms of life which appear as suddenly and wreak invisible havoc. Without solid reinforcement, the spirit can be swept away by a raging river of despair.
Through the centuries, some of those spirits, tumbling wildly through the ether, have fetched up against the strong, blue steel of Calvin’s theology. The premise that God is in control shines like a beacon in the void. If it could only be so, then a life of pain, a tragic loss or a terrible mistake would have meaning and purpose after all. Though Christians typically preach salvation producing redemption, the promise of redemption can also be the doorway to salvation: the past redeemed, the future secured. God’s sovereignty is a steel support which holds firm when the world moves, and by this one beam, some have reached the bridge which spans heaven and earth.
But steel is cold comfort, and Calvinists have a tendency to incarnate its chilly severity. If God is in control then there is no need to regret, no need to repair, no need to sympathize. Why should we regret what Divinity has decreed? If man’s life is a vessel in the Potter’s hands, better to admire than to mourn the Master’s workmanship. Why should we weep for God’s good providence?
We should weep over the wreckage of creation because Jesus wept. We should love the flotsam of humanity because He loved them. We should minister to the storm-tossed because He ministers through us. Anchored beyond the gale, let us open our souls to the heart of Christ, which is, after all, the heart of Calvin’s theology. Secure in the tempest, let us open our arms to a drowning humanity. It diminishes our faith to stand stoic and cerebral in the face of tragedy. Trust is the steel in the Calvinist spine; it can also be an intellectual shield which bars others from our compassion. The gift of the Reformed faith is strength for the hurricane, but in the struggle of its aftermath let us ask God for hearts of flesh to replace our hearts of steel.