Calvinism From A Drunk Teenage Girl

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Church on the open ocean – Photo: Edith Johannesen

Over the weekend, in my home town of Gøta, the G! Festival happened. G! is arguably the high point of the Faroese musical calendar, with scores of bands, both home-grown and foreign, converging on our humble town of about 1000 people. (My favourite acts this year included Faroese Byrta, Swedish Alina Devecerski and Icelandic Ásgeir Trausti.) Around 5000 people, give or take, attend the festival, many of them bringing tents and sleeping bags to the nearby camping grounds. The bigger acts perform on the beach, in front of a steady stream of bathers skipping back and forth between a sauna and firewood-heated hot tubs and the freezing Atlantic Ocean. There’s a film festival too, Faroese sushi abounds and so does the locally brewed beer and cider. Among many other more or less exotic curiosities. As you can probably imagine, it’s quite a party.

I was involved in outreach at the festival. The festival church, we called it. I’ll tell you more about it in an upcoming post, but basically we decorated an old barn with chair, tables, candles and Christian art and invited people in to hang out and, if they felt like it, chat. We also washed festival goers’ feet and did a traditional Lutheran service on Norðlýsið, an old schooner, on the open sea (communion with the waves and sea birds providing the music was profoundly beautiful!). We were very happy with the outreach and so were many of the people we talked to at the festival.

Like the drunk teenage girl I ran into early Saturday morning on my way home.

I’ve seen her around and I know her family. Her background is in the church. Church, though – if I may be so bold – doesn’t seem to play a large part in her life. At the moment at least. But as is often the case, faith lingers. Often at the margins and edges of daily experience, but it’s there and in certain circumstances, one bumps up against it.

“I really liked your church,” the young lady told me. “It was cool.”

Barely acknowledging my thanking her, she looked into my eyes and continued, “I lit a candle there for my uncle and his wife. Their baby boy just died, right after he was born.”

“That’s horrible,” I said.

“Yeah, it feels horrible,” she replied. “But it was what God wanted, so it can’t be horrible really.”

I could have said something, but refrained. We parted ways there, abruptly, as seems to be the preferred manner of seperation for pre-stupor drunk people. I had to overtake her when I was driving home a while later. She was walking along the lines on the road.

I’ve been thinking about what she said since. Calvinism has its eloquent and learned defenders – and she certainly won’t be counted among them. But something about her words made my basic problem with Calvinism stand out in stark relief. (I refer to the Calvinistic doctrine of divine sovereignity and predetination.)

What I have a hard time understanding is how, if God predestines everything that happens, can anything be deemed truly horrible? The girl seemed to understand this, however partially. Yeah, we may feel bad, but that’s an inappropriate emotion because it doesn’t match the true nature of the event, which is actually good, not horrible. I understand the desire for control in times of chaos and foothold in raging storms. The belief that God intended things to happen as they did gives painful events a meaning that people find comforting. But I wonder if that’s not too high a price to pay for comfort. Because while superficially predestination confers meaning to painful states of affairs, in reality robs them of their meaning. Because if God directly predestines a horrible event like te death of a newborn boy, how can that event truly be horrible? How can something God does be anything less than wholly good? And if God predestines everything how can anything be less tan wholly good? Taken to its logical conclusion a Calvinistic understanding of sovereignity and predetination not only denies te existence of evil, but makes God himself the author of evil.

We have theologically sound reasons to reject such a view of God. The ontological integrity of genuine evil is necessary in order to undertand the Christian story of salvation. Evil must be other than God if God is to be other than evil, if God is to be good. Why worship a God who is the author of evil and its discrete instances? There’s other stuff to do, like fighting evil. A drunk teenage girl could tell you that.

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