Disclaimer: This post contains negative comments about Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. The statements are my personal views. They should not be construed as official statements from First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS or from me as pastor of the church.

Last Sunday, I asked the church school class I teach to share the dumbest statement they had ever heard. One member, a ruling elder (lay officer), said: “It was God’s will.”

After my initial shock and dismay at Richard Mourdock’s statements on Tuesday claiming that pregnancy from rape “is something God intended to happen,” I thought of that elder’s assessment of views that apparently maintain that a) God makes everything happen; and b) the speaker has a direct line to God so he or she is sure of what God wills/intends.

Mourdock has refused to apologize for the statement, which has brought derision and outrage.  And he has also blamed Democrats for twisting his words. He said: “‘For speaking from my heart, from the deepest level of my faith, I cannot apologize…. I would be less than faithful to my faith if I said anything other than life is precious. I think it is a gift from God. I don’t think God would ever want anyone harmed, sexually abused, or raped. I think it’s wrong when someone wants to take what I said and twist it’” (http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/politics-elections/263843-mourdock-stands-by-abortion-view-says-dems-twisted-his-meaning).

The article I just cited, like many others, is a political piece. I haven’t seen much theological comment on Mourdock’s outrageous views, but then I don’t read that widely. I did see recently religion editor and Baptist Paul Brandeis Raushenbush’s take on the issue: “No God didn’t. There are some things that God doesn’t intend. At some point, sane religious people must insist that not everything was meant to happen, including rape — and including conception as the result of a rape”  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/richard-mourdock-god-abortion_b_2009718.html).

All I’ve read about his affiliation is that Mourdock is an “evangelical.” Given his comments, though, I think I could also safely label him as a hyper-Calvinist. The media have pointed out that his views come from his opposition to abortion, but they also sound to me like the statements of someone who believes in an extreme (and I would say, corrupt and mistaken) form of predestination. This spin on Calvin’s “horrific doctrine” (Calvin’s words) says that everything that happens is ordained by God, whether in the world at large or your or my personal lives. Every detail is planned out from before the foundation of the world for everybody for all time, from what you will have for breakfast tomorrow to whether or not I will go to heaven.

Here is a sample from the Westminster Confession of Faith (17th century), which was the only official statement of faith for the Presbyterian Church for a long time:  “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” Even this lovely little catechism answer from The Heidelberg Catechism, meant to provide assurance, could be troubling: “Q. What is your only comfort, in life and in death? A. That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation” (emphases mine).

People who need to believe God intends everything or causes everything to happen do so, in my view, because they need to be assured that somebody somewhere is in control. It doesn’t matter how horrific the implications are, like God intends a pregnancy from rape or caused your only child to be killed in combat or a car accident or ordained the Holocaust. These folk bracket those concerns because their immediate need is to be free of the fear that the universe is spinning down into chaos or humanity is sailing off the edge of the world with no one at the helm.

But ultimately such ideas—and the people who espouse them—are dangerous and wrong. They result in everything from hurt feelings (as at the funeral when someone tells you your loved one is dead because it was “God’s will”) to genocide, when those sure of whom God favors decide to slaughter their enemies in God’s name. They lead to laws that take away your freedom and mine to choose our own course of moral action and substitute the narrow viewpoint of a legislator who is sure he or she knows “what God intends.”

Much better to affirm that indeed God will ultimately be victorious and his dream of peace, freedom, justice, and love will prevail. But in the meantime, we cannot know with certainty what God wants in every particular nor is our life planned out to the smallest detail. That doesn’t scare me. It makes me feel free and grateful and determined to make the best choices I can, by God’s grace.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved. 

Q. 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
A. That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself
but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood
has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion
of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of
my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything
must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit,
he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing
and ready from now on to live for him.—
The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1

On a Sunday earlier in this Lent, I decided to eat lunch at a Mexican restaurant that had recently reopened in Amory under a new name, “El Rey.” It was about 12:45 PM, and the wait line was long. After finally being seated, I started munching on my chips and looking over the menu. My server came in a bit, and I ordered the taquitos.

Usually the meal is on the table in any Mexican restaurant in no time, but today was different. I waited and waited, and still no food. Finally the manager came over and explained that the place was so busy the kitchen was having trouble keeping up. I told him I was in no hurry. By the time the meal came, I had made my to-do list for the week on the little pocket pad I always keep with me.

The taquitos with the usual sides were delicious, and I was stuffed. But no sooner had I finished than the manager appeared again with a banana chimichanga and ice cream. It was on la casa, an apology for my having to wait.

What an incredibly gracious thing to do, I thought (and of course, it was also good business). But then I got the real surprise. When I had finished the dessert, my server came over and said in her halting English “Someone pay for you.” I was floored. I was fully prepared to pay and truly had not minded the wait. Yet “someone pay” for me.

On Good Friday, as the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us, “someone pay for you” and me. And in this case too, it was El Rey, the King,  Jesus the Messiah from the line of David. 

© 2011 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.