Sunday, March 11, 2012

Question From Rachel

Rachel asked a question in the comment section, but I want to bring it to the forefront for our New Calvinist experts to answer.

Can someone answer this question for me? (I'm trying to fit some puzzle pieces together about NC)...

I see from the example in the post (that of a woman being abused "partaking in Christ's suffering") that NCs can come off as ambivalent about helping/stopping suffering when it rears its ugly head.

Do they take it a step further and actually emphasize suffering as a goal/way of life?

In other words, it's one thing to tell a suffering person that they shouldn't seek to change their situation. It's another thing to tell a happy person that they should actively aspire to be suffering.

I am starting to see this attitude in my church and it really bothers me. For one thing, I know very few well-adjusted people who actually aspire towards suffering as a way of life (plenty of people who give lip service to that, mind you, but I see them out having fun and smelling the roses just like everyone else). Also, as someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, I've had to hold onto God's promise of mercy, joy and hope in order to get myself to a place of health and healing...and I see people in my church who have never struggled with these things decreeing quite confidently that trying to escape suffering is not what we want. (I wonder if any of them have ever found themselves truly unable to get out of bed in the morning, and how they justified that this was necessary for them to serve God....don't know about you all, but I always serve God better when I get up, go about my day, and interact with other humans).


Anybody want to address this for Rachel? I'd like to know, as well.


Lynne said...

Hmm .. I can only speak from my own experience, but I suspect it's a reflection of something innate to Calvinism. I don't recall anyone specifically preaching on the glories of suffering, it was more an implication than a directive, a subtle flavour that permeated everything, like the unspoken rules in a family dynamic, which can be so hard to put your finger on and articulate, but if you live within that dynamic you're shaped by it all the time.

Think about it: there is a huge suspicion of anything that could be labelled 'man-centred', we exist to glorify God and, apparently, He is equally glorified whether we are saved or damned, God's centre stage attibute is His sovereignty, to which we must all submit -- but somehow women have to submit more than men, because, to quote Animal Farm, 'all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
When you look at those ingredients, it takes very little to push it over into the glorification of suffering. I HAVE heard it said that objecting to your situation is being like the Israelites who grumbled in the wilderness, and we know how God punished them!

I guess, thinking this through, my take away impression was not so much that suffering was glorious as that it was necessary, and trying to avoid it was almost always sinful

brad/futuristguy said...

What comes to mind is a recent conversation we had in our men's Bible study group, which is going through *A Praying Life* by Paul Miller. A similar question came up about people who "promote" suffering as reeeeally good for us, but it's in a weird, perverse way like some of what Rachel's hearing in her church.

Anyway, I wondered aloud about whether this attitude was all that different in essence from a sort of fundamentalist Islamic view: a rather fatalistic “If God wills” sort of a thing. It’s hard to find joy in this, which is an indicator that the fruit of the Spirit is absent. It also messes up “theodicy” (that God justifies that He is not the author of evil, despite using it redemptively).

I also wonder if there is an overemphasis in this approach on our depravity. Kind of like, “We really do deserve this, because we’re terrible horrible very-bad no-good sinners. So just man up and take it - - it’s good for you!” It’s cold and clinical because it leaves off the part of the paradox that notes we are created in God’s image and therefore there is SOME good in being human. My saying on this overly either/or thinking is, “In ministry as in medicine, to dissect it is to kill it,” and this dividing of reflect-God’s-image humanity from the total-to-the-core depravity and tossing aside the first half leaves nothing but negative second half.

People who are “decreeing quite confidently that trying to escape suffering is not what we want” may think this neo-Calvinist/neo-Puritan approach is redemptive, but it is not. But then, so much of what passes as truth has elements of error in it, and in the long run we’ll see the consequences thereof.

Maybe this perspective is really a turned-inside-out perversion of “Shall we sin so grace may abound? [No!]” Namely, “Shall we suffer so grace may abound?” Oh, yeah! (At least, that seems to be what they say.) It’s dehumanizing … which goes back to the idea that this supposedly 100% truth theology is missing half the paradox about what it is to be human, and it’s ending up inhumane.

Paul said...

I respond to Rachel's question here:

Mara Reid said...

Thanks Paul,
I'm at work where I cannot make new posts.
But the Lord willing, I'll post the link you give above in a new post.
Those who don't want to wait until then, just cut and paste the link into your browser.

Also, thanks to Lynne and Brad for your responses.
I like hearing things from different angles.

Cynthia Kunsman said...

Mara, I couldn't fit my whole response here, so I wrote it up as a blog post:

In short, it can be explained in different ways, and I look at it as a pattern of spiritual abuse.

In short it can be attributed to:
1. Neoplatonism in Christianity
2. Image consciousness (a feature of spiritual abuse)
3. Producerism (a feature of Right Wing Populism in the US)
4. Gothard's teaching about meriting grace through acts of suffering and submission