In Rocky IV (pictured), Russian Ivan Drago beats up American Rocky Balboa mercilessly. You want to stop Drago, but you can’t. Like Rocky’s wife, Adrian, you want the suspense and anguish to subside, but it keeps going. That is what it's like for a husband when their wife is in labor.
The day after Gibson was born I wrote this: “Gibson’s delivery- that was God somehow doing all of that. Yet, it was humans doing all of that. There is a tension between God’s sovereignty and human action. They co-exist. They should remain unresolved and mysterious in our minds since we cannot conclude where one ends and the other begins.”
I told my friend, “Labor and delivery makes a Calvinist out of me.” Why? Because if God was not in complete control that means my son’s and wife’s lives were up to cruel, mindless and careless chance, in the hands of the flawed doctors and nurses. What if the nurse hooked up the wrong IV? What if the doctor failed to rotate Gibson’s head at the last minute?
(Calvinists prize God’s control over every detail, which they call sovereignty. Arminians say God values giving some free will to humans, albeit limited, over maintaining complete control. That’s an oversimplification of Calvinism and Armininism and the two titles pertain to much more than what I am talking about. Surely, I've distorted one or both theological view to make a point.)
Since I could do nothing but watch, the Calvinist in me hoped God was sovereignly controlling every tiny factor in the seemingly chaotic, random, chance birth of our son. I was trusting in God, the puppeteer. I didn't want my wife's life, son's life and my life to be left up to cruel and mindless chance.
But, I could go the other opposite way and say, “Labor and delivery makes a pure Arminian out of me.” Why? Because as I looked around at the doctors and nurses I could have thought, “Surely these humans are not puppets on God’s string. They are free agents exercising their vast collective knowledge and skill and decades of hands-on experience (which God gave them.) Since God is not standing there it must be up to them."
I don’t think either extreme is right. I think neither are true and both are true. I think it's a mix.
It seems to me to be a full-fledged Calvinist or Arminian is to compromise either the free will God has willed humans to have, or neglect God’s involvement in our personal lives and greater history. There is a problem with staunch Arminians and staunch Calvinists: The scriptures read more Calvinist than Arminians admit and other times more Arminian than Calvinists admit.
In the children’s book, “My Precious Little Bear,” by Claire Freedman and Gavin Scott a bear cub said, “I love to watch the shiny fish that dart and splash and play. But when I touch one with my paw, it always slips away!”
Calvinism and Arminianism seem like that shiny fish. When we touch them, when we think we are holding them, they slip away. When we settle on one side we come across a scripture (no, several of them) and observe something in real life that messes up our nice, neat theology. It’s like when Jimmy Fallon messed up Donald Trump’s hair. The carefully positioned pieces are disrupted by a giant hand.
You might say, “I don’t know what it means to be a Calvinist or Arminian so I am neither.” But, everyone is on the spectrum about what they believe about human responsibility and God’s intervention. There is no escaping the fact you are a theologian. God made you too high.
Perhaps, our default mode is to put more emphasis on human actions and celebrate human acts in history over God’s acts in history. Some Calvinism seems to be an overreaction to our default mode which emphasizes human good and ingenuity without acknowledging God’s sovereignty.
It seems to me the best way to make sense of the delivery room is as a “Cal-Arminian,” to borrow a phrase from Denver Seminary Professor Craig Blomberg. As a Cal-Arminian I can acknowledge and celebrate both human ingenuity and God’s sovereignty in the delivery room.
As a Cal-Arminian I don’t have to freak out, or get defensive, when I read something in the Bible that contradicts Calvinism or Armininism. I don't have the shiny fish. I have an empty hand. I am able to hold onto God’s unmatchable work on our behalf and acknowledge that God gives us real daily choices which shape human history. I can believe the world and its weather are not running free from God’s control and that God, because God chose to, shares control with us and probably the weather.
I can believe that God has willed that the wills of other’s matter and that God works in all things. I can believe God sometimes overrides a human’s will to accomplish His purposes and that we have bona fide, non-coerced choices according to the limited freedom God has allotted. (I think this is the only way God knows if actually we love Him and others.) I can hold onto and relish both facts and mystery. I can hold a tension and not pretend I know exactly what is at play in every situation.
Since we can't know for sure where God’s sovereignty and human freedom begin or end it seems wise to embrace both without too much expense to the other.
(*Note- Even our free will is limited. For instance, we can’t choose where, when or to whom we were born. We can’t be two places at one time or become a different person. We can’t fly. We can’t walk on Saturn, etc.)