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I have this weird knack of looking for Calvinism-of-a-sort, oddly appearing in pop culture, especially music and sappy romantic love. It’s not a full-time job. Not even a hobby, really.
My thesis is that Reformed doctrines like election are actually deeply rooted in an incredible love. Unfortunately election and other Reformed touchstones have been framed more in terms of logic and law, cold and impersonal rather than warm and personal. I am a quiet defender of Dort (I’m speaking more of the canons, but nothing against the college 🙂 ). But Dort’s use of terms like “edict” and “reprobation” has contributed to this…it’s more than a misunderstanding…aversion. Critics, both secular and Christian, have simply picked up on it.
Then every so often in all the paeans to love, my ears prick up. I detect a note or two that resound in my Reformed heart. Of course, I’m not saying this is in any way intentional—(rom-coms written by secret Calvinist sympathizers?) I figure that so much is said and written about love, that sometimes it just slips into quasi-Calvinist territory. Or maybe, the eschatological magnetism of the Holy Spirit is at work.
Okay, give me an example, you’re thinking. Tell me a story already.
A favorite of mine was the 1999 song by the Australian duo Savage Garden, I Knew I Loved You. (Sorry, I stopped listening to pop music around the turn of the century!) There might be little hints throughout the whole song, but the chorus was what warmed my heart.
I think I loved you before I knew you.
I think I dreamed you into life.
I knew I loved you before I met you.
I have been waiting all my life.
Might this be God’s song to humanity? To you? To me? It’s not a perfect fit, I’ll grant you that. But I hear something about love from before time. Maybe a love not built on qualities and qualifications? A deep longing for love, an everlastingly patient love, a dream that becomes finally instantiated, actually incarnated. Do you hear it, even a little bit?
Of course part of the fun was the discussions, even debates, this prompted with my then-young children. “Dad! That’s not what they’re singing about. They don’t even know about John Calvin!” And of course, they don’t. But such conversations are priceless. Treasure them. Even incite them, if your kids are still of that age. (Another source of endless provocation was “Is Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life—sorry, I’m dating myself again—a direct contradiction to Heidelberg Q&A #1?”) This sort of stuff has got to still be happening. Odd and inadvertent onramps to theology. Share your insights and experiences, please!
But here’s my most recent encounter, the one that spurred this blog. It was a father’s speech at a wedding reception last month. That’s not a movie or song, but still within the wider realm of romantic love. The father is a witty, literate sort. It was probably the best such speech I have heard—humorous and tender. Then near the conclusion, the father recalled his own wedding and experience of coming to love.
Weddings meant less when I was single–I’m sure I was envious of the couple and the love they had found. And because I was so incredibly ineffective at finding that for myself, I came to the conclusion that the only way things would ever work out well is if in some mystical, magical way, love were to find me. Eventually, love did–took me by surprise, actually, and worked its magic.
“Incredibly ineffective at finding love for myself”—that phrase probably rang true for many at the reception that night—the former nerds and wallflowers, the socially awkward, the tongue-tied, the unattractive, the excluded.
To me that phrase also described me and God—actually, all people and God. Incredibly ineffective at finding love. Graciously, mystically, surprisingly—love set out to find us. Unlike the way this Reformed belief is so often portrayed, this isn’t terrifying or somber news. It is beautiful. It is good.
Because I was so incredibly ineffective at finding that for myself…the only way things would ever work out well is if in some mystical, magical way, love were to find me.