So most of you know that the Church has a calendar all her own, and that in the Church we mark time by way of feast days and fast days; the Church has a commemoration of something pretty much every day, as you’ve probably seen in the Angelus or on the back of your bulletin. Lately the Episcopal Church has put several questionable people on the calendar, people who aren’t necessarily (big S) Saints, but just nice people or historically important people.
Today’s reading from Romans reminds me of this because one of those questionable characters, John Calvin, was recently added to our calendar, to the revulsion of many, including me. Calvin loved when Paul talked about God predestining people for things, and he built what has become Calvinism, expressed mostly in Presbyterianism and the fundamentalist sects, on the notion of God predestining people for Heaven or Hell. What many don’t know is that as he wrote his many volumes on the religion, his liver was steadily failing, and as his liver got worse, so did his idea of the people around him, and by the time his liver was shot, the human race was totally depraved and mostly predestined for Hell.
Calvin was condemned as a heretic, of course, for these and several other crazy, jaundiced ideas, and wherever he might find himself now, he is probably surprised to find that Paul didn’t believe in Calvin’s idea of predestination. What Paul was writing about here in this part of his letter to the Romans was about one thing, the promise that God has made us.
“In these last words of Romans 8 (Paul) provides us a perspective on life that…enables us to live joyfully, peacefully, hopefully, and faithfully in the midst of the chaos. Paul sums up that perspective in three statements that I would call the bedrock certainties of life. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We know this, says Paul. There’s no doubt about it. It is one of the bedrock certainties of life—“in all things God works for the good of those who love him….”1
But doesn’t the evidence of everyday life refute this claim? Doesn’t our evening news, with passenger planes being shot down and seemingly most of the world in turmoil, or just our personal tragedies, make this claim a lie?
“How can we believe in this magnificent promise in the face of such unspeakable tragedy? Well, first of all, we must understand the promise. Maybe the easiest way to understand what it means is to get clear on what it doesn’t say. For example, it doesn’t say that all things are good. This is not a promise that flies in the face of reality and claims that even really terrible things are good. Later in this passage Paul will mention things like persecution and famine and death, and he never hints that such things are good in themselves. Some things are not good; they are downright evil and wrong, and we ought to hate them and try to get rid of them. The promise is that all things, even the bad things, work together for good.
“For good, despite what John Calvin might think. It says that God will work for “the good,” and defines that good in a very specific way… We have been predestined (yes) “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” That is our destiny (as Christians), our highest good. There is nothing better than to be like the Son of God with all the privilege and honor… and power and blessing that”2 comes with being an adopted child of God.
This is the bedrock certainty of the Christian life and faith, that though all is not well now, in God’s good time all things will be well, and not only well, but perfect.
1. Scott Hoezee, This Week