Beautiful theology. . .

“They’re not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their hearts sing.”
~ John Piper

I can’t speak from experience, but I’ve heard from some credible sources that the deeper someone gets to know their spouse, the more beautiful that spouse becomes. I’ve witnessed it in many couples that I admire and have learned from (and it runs much deeper than the anniversary Facebook or Twitter post).

I think the same can be said for theology. The deeper one goes into studying the intricacies of God’s interaction with us, the more beautiful those interactions become.

Or at least, they should become more beautiful.

I discovered, however, that the deeper I went into theology as a Calvinist, the uglier things got. It wasn’t even the “Bible cherry-picking” running rampant in Calvinism that made theology ugly. It was God himself (viewed through Calvinism’s lens) that grew frightening, unloving, and even—dare I say—evil.

Take this quote from Mark R. Talbot, a leading Calvinist philosopher:

“[God] brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and his people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4). This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child . . .”

(from Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor [Wheaton: Crossway, 2006])

Now, some might argue (my former Calvinist self included) that the beauty in such a theology is the comfort that comes with knowing God is in control of every aspect of life. Nothing escapes God’s control, and so we can rest in that truth.

But here’s the question that springs to mind: How can anyone trust a God who brings about such atrocities according to his will?

Perhaps one might respond with a reminder of God’s greater purpose in bringing glory to himself. But I shudder to imagine the kind of being that would receive glory from the sexual abuse of a young child.

“But Nate, God’s ways are not our ways, and his will is hidden from us. His ways are higher than our ways, so who are we to question what he does?”

Okay, perhaps you’re right. But if, in fact, God has chosen to reveal himself to us as love (1 John 4), senseless killings, sexual abuse, genocide. . . these things cannot, and should not, be attributed to a God who calls himself Love. If they are his doing, how can we call him Love?

Is this beautiful? Does this “make your heart sing”?

Let me speculate a little bit now.

What if, instead of God being in control, he were in charge? What if all the evil in the world were actually contrary to what God is trying to accomplish?

What if God were just as brokenhearted over such events as the murder of a Japanese journalist or the abuse of a small child as we are?

Do these ideas make God any less powerful? Perhaps. I won’t deny that a God who’s not in control of everything is a God who appears less powerful than a God who is in control of all things. But let me ask this: why does God need to be all-controlling? Does that make him any more glorious than if he weren’t?

I suppose that would depend on where you think God gets his glory. If God gets his glory from his power, then yes, God must be all-controlling in order to be completely glorious. However, if God gets his glory from his love and self sacrifice (Philippians 2), then complete control wouldn’t factor into his glory at all. In fact, it would probably detract from it.

Let’s go back to the spouse analogy we opened with. If your spouse orchestrated painful—even evil—events in your life citing some kind of “hidden will” that would ultimately bring more “glory” to him/herself, how trusting would you be of your spouse? How beautiful would your spouse be in your eyes?

If, on the other hand, those painful and evil events were out of your spouse’s control, but he/she were actively working against those events—protecting and shielding you, comforting and encouraging you (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34)—how trusting would you be of your spouse then? How beautiful would your spouse be?

Does theology necessarily need to be beautiful? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. I won’t pretend to know. But I would like it to be. And I think almost everyone would.

But if theology is going to make your “heart sing,” it had better be beautiful.

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