Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 13: Fear, Worry, and Anxiety


Other Posts in this Series:

I started this series of blog posts to explore the importance and relevance of Calvinism.  I submit that if Calvinism is simply a name for a set of doctrines that hang in the air with little to no impact on anything else, then Calvinism isn't worth our time or attention.  It certainly isn't worth the potential grief and personal hurt that often comes from debates over the issue.  On the other hand, if Calvinism has the power to make the gospel stand forth in greater beauty, and if it significantly shapes our understanding of God, doctrine, and life, then we need to understand it and work out its implications carefully. 

In this post, I want to consider why Calvinism matters to the internal world of human beings. We might reflect on the relevance of Calvinism to depression, anger, pride, shame, guilt, controlling behavior, and so on, but here I only want to examine its relevance to fear, worry, and anxiety.

Calvinism matters because it comforts our fears, or rather, because the God of Calvinism comforts our fears.

Maybe you know something about fear. You may have experienced the fear of failing to accomplish something important, the fear of what others think of you, the fear of losing someone close to you, the fear of pain and dying, the fear of the future, or the fear of not having enough money to sustain yourself or your family, etc.

According to Christ, one of the basic antidotes to fear is faith. In Luke 12:22, the Lord Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.” Christ then identified the central problem with anxious thinking when He cried, “O you of little faith” (Lk 12:28). The reason we fear is that we don't have enough faith. Or rather, we have too much faith in something other than Christ. We may have faith in the power of men to destroy us and so we fear men. Or our faith might be in our skills and efforts to achieve a happy and secure future for ourselves and so we fear failing to do what we've planned to do.

But do you see how the root of every fear is believing that something other than God controls our lives? At the foundation of all fear, worry, and anxiety, is having too “little faith” in our good God who is absolutely sovereign over the whole world.

Christ declared that part of the antidote to “little faith” is coming to grips with God's meticulous control over the world and placing our faith in Him instead of our idols. Christ lovingly said, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. . . . Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Lk 12:24-27). When we think about how God controls these relatively insignificant parts of the world, we should be encouraged to meditate on His control of everything. And having faith in His good and wise control of all things will comfort our fears.

We don't need to fear death because He's directing every molecule of the world toward the new heavens and the new earth, where death is no more. We don't need to fear the future because He holds the future in His hands. We don't need to fear the lack of physical provisions because God powerfully loves and provides for His own.

But what about the choices of men? Here is where Calvinism is especially helpful. Do men have the kind of free-will that can make choices apart from God's determining control? Did God give human beings sovereign authority over their own choices? Is it possible for men to make choices that disrupt His plan, wreck our lives, or take the very best from us? No.

In telling His disciples not to fear men, the Lord Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny and not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt 10:28-30). The logic of the text is clear.  If God's will extends to the falling of sparrows and the number of hairs on our heads, then certainly His will rules and overrules the choices of men too. We have no reason to fear men or the results of their choices because God controls them all. 

Ephesians 1:11 says, God “works all things according to the counsel of His will.” That means nothing comes to pass outside of His good and sovereign will, including human choices. Job 42:2 says, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” No matter how much they might wish otherwise, human beings cannot thwart God's purpose by their choices. Unbelieving choices and believing choices, sinful choices and godly choices, foolish choices and wise choices, are all the outworking of His sovereign will, and none of them can thwart His purpose (Gen 50:20; Acts 4:27-28; Lk 22:22).

Jeremiah 10:23 says, “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps."  Proverbs 20:24 says, “A man's steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.”  There is, therefore, no reason to fear the choices of men and every reason to trust the sovereign God of Calvinism.

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