church · crisis · doubt · family · parenting · sadness · theology

When Doctrine Hurts

Frequently my husband and I joke that it would be easier to be “those Christians.” You know – the ones who don’t read their Bibles, who go to church maybe once or twice a month. The ones who don’t wrestle with Truth and theology. The ones who think that because they’ve been baptized, sporadically attend a “Bible” study, and halfheartedly give money to the church, they have fire insurance.

I have written before about my church background. My husband and I have joined a reformed church, because it is the healthiest church in the area, and I am honestly struggling, via study, with where I fall on the reformed spectrum. It’s easy for “cage stage” Calvinists, or maybe people who grew up with solid families in that tradition, to look down their noses at what I’m about to say.

I have also written before about how Keith and I don’t have a spiritual heritage. My mother aside, we are pioneering this whole “solid Christian family” thing – essentially having planted a new family tree at our marriage. It is lonely, it is difficult, and when your child is sobbing in your arms about the salvation of his grandparents – it is extremely painful.


Therein lies my primary difficulty with the doctrine of election as explained by die-hard Calvinists:

How do I explain to my precious 7 year old that his beloved grandparents may have been predestined by God to go to hell?

I mean, seriously? He sobs himself sick over it. He doesn’t understand election, sovereignty, the entirety of the counsel of who God is. He’s seven.

(really…do any of us, though? I mean…who really understands all of who God is?)

It’s far easier for me, as a parent, as the daughter who has been praying for said grandparents for the better part of thirty years, to tell him that they don’t want to give up their human beliefs, their sinful choices, their pride, their illusion of being in control of their lives.

It’s far easier to lay the blame for their lack of salvation at the feet of free will.

It seems to me that it will be easier to “explain” God to my son in light of that explanation than in the light of “God decided before the world began to send them to hell.” It seems to me that my child will be less damaged in his beliefs at this age if it’s his grandparents’ fault, and not God’s.

I can read Augustine, John Calvin, John McArthur, Paul Washer, Todd Friel, James White. I can listen to all the conference livestreams and downloads of all the great preachers. I can hold my own, read and exegete and word study original languages with the best of the educated theologians out there (when I’m not mopping up spilled milk and doing my third load of muddy laundry).

What I cannot do is soothe the broken heart of my hysterical seven year old son, who is desperate for his grandparents to really listen to the gospel.

Oh, they’ve heard it. They’ve heard it more times than I have fingers and toes.

What I cannot do is allow him to share the gospel with them again, because it damages their relationship. They have specifically asked that he not “talk about Jesus things,” because they are convinced they are saved, and that our “religion” is ridiculous.

What I cannot do is boil down free will or predestination/election to a simple, child-friendly explanation that doesn’t pit God against family members.

Their hearts are hard. Only the Holy Spirit can change that. Regardless of where I fall on the theological spectrum, I know it’s up to the Holy Spirit, ultimately.

But what if God has decided not to soften their hearts? How do I lay that at the feet of a God that I want my child to love, to adore, to worship, to know is a good, loving, kind, God?

Because He is…despite predestination, election, hell, wrath, and anger, God is a good, loving, kind, just God.

But explaining that to a beside-himself seven year old grieving the spiritual lostness of family members he loves?

Not helpful. 

And this is why I struggle with this doctrine…

6 thoughts on “When Doctrine Hurts

  1. I sure wish we could sit down with a cup of coffee (or chai!) and wrestle through this doctrine together. I struggle, too. I cannot get past that God is not willing that any should perish. I, too, know all the theology behind the “die-hard” reformists, and we are currently part of a denomination whose members are largely reformed in their theology (although that is not a part of the denominational statement of faith). If it makes you feel any better, I’m right there with you. Blessings, sister.


  2. Hi Rachel,
    I respect you sticking your neck out there and being frank about where you are in your understanding and wrestling with theology. I agree, it IS difficult. When you first posted about wrestling with what you believed, and admitting you were not sure about the reformed tradition, I commented and told you that I too had recently been wrestling with it and finally came to settled and firm convictions (I commend as just ‘Jennifer’ because I had not started my blog yet)

    I wanted to offer up some thoughts for your consideration, but they are by NO MEANS a criticism…..just a “hey I’ve been there and maybe I can help?”

    I have come to understand it best expressed as we are are all, justifiably, in our natural state deserving and headed toward hell, but God in His mercy elects some to salvation. No one is treated unfairly, some recieve justice and some recieve mercy. Retrospect is always easier, but perhaps it could be worded to your little one as:

    “we are ALL headed to hell unless God saves us. We will keep praying for and witnessing to grandma and grandpa! God takes no pleasure in the unsaved dying (Ezekiel 18:23) and the Bible says that He longs for all to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). Our job is to trust God that all that the Father gives to the Son will be saved, and to share the gospel with everyone around us.”

    At 7, even though he is precocious, he can’t resolve in his mind the mysteries of God that adults struggle with……none of us can reconcile that God will elect some, but not all and yet he longs for all to be saved. It seems a paradox to our limited minds, but in His mind it is perfectly resolved. Certainly tell him the truth, because it does no good to shield him from the difficult aspects of it, and yet there are ways to put it that don’t give him such a burden at his tender age. As he gets older, he will be ready for more. My teens sturggle with it too, but when we are dealing with it and its hard for them, worrying about those they love, I bring them back to the basics: God is all good, all loving, perfectly wise, etc and if we believe these fundamentals we rest in trusting that He knows best and if some of those we love aren’t there we will be okay with it when we are like Him because we will know as we are known. There are just some things we cannot resolve in our fallen and imperfect minds and that is when we return to the basic attributes and remind ourselves what we believe and remind ourselves not to take on that which is God’s burden.

    Keep wrestling. It is worth it. I will pray for your son and for you and Keith as you try to help him. ((hugs))


  3. My heart breaks for all of you, but especially your little boy. I’ve found peace in the doctrine of election (my mom died without Christ almost three years ago), but the peace doesn’t erase the pain. I’ll pray for your family.


  4. Rachel, I highly recommend you look into Molinism. It is the best model I think we have when understanding election, human free will, and God’s sovereignty. In my humble opinion, the historical Reformed position makes God out to be arbitrary, creating humans beings just for the sake of sending them to hell. Scripture, it seems to me, says very clearly that God desires all to be saved. If this is the case, then Reformed doctrine is severely undermined.


  5. I remember taking my daughter and some of her friends to see a religious play at an AOG church. It was all well and good until one segment where a family was all killed in a car crash. The thing that bothered me was when the mom said that she was so glad that one of the young kids had just recently professed his faith so that he could end up in heaven with the rest of them. Not quite the same as predestination and election but, to me, the same in missing the whole point of Jesus’ ministry. As Christians we are pledged to try to follow his example and not waste our time figuring out who is or is not on the guest list for the King’s banquet. It’s not our call anyway. Blessing to you and your family.


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