I’m going to offend some of you. And it won’t be because you’ll learn about my friend, Anna, a Penthouse model who helped shaped my theology. I’ll offend you because I’ll take hundreds of year’s worth of revered debates and boil them down to simple, generalized arguments. I will not do John Calvin justice. So, forgive me and read on or don’t.
Seven FSU football seasons ago, a friend and I were eating lunch at the mall. We ate our grilled chicken salads at the bar to get a better view of the game we felt obligated to watch. Into the first quarter, I noticed, well, everyone noticed a beautiful woman with fake blond tresses and other fake features. She was visibly upset and kept trying to get through to someone on the pay phone. When she came back to the bar, she rummaged through her purse for another quarter. I offered her some coin change and we began to talk.
Anna, I learned, was a Penthouse model. Anna’s drunk boyfriend was angry with her at the time and would not return her calls. Anna once dated the drummer of some band I’d never heard of. “Have you seen their music videos? Check out his right arm—there’s my tattoo” Anna shared with me questions of her soul—questions about God, what’s right and what’s wrong (not joking—she asked me some crazy questions), and why she couldn’t seem to leave her boyfriend.
I mostly listened. I spoke truth—Jesus loves you and has more for your life than this. I listened some more. An hour later, she told me I was her angel (a very illogical cliché) and I prayed with her right there, on the bar stools.
Anna is why I’m not a Presbyterian. Or a Calvinist. Or a believer in God pre-determining the choices people will make regarding Him.
That Christmas I went home and I spent the entire three weeks of winter break researching and studying this favorite debate of the saints. Does God choose for us? How much “free will” do we have? I read compelling arguments, citing passages from the Bible that seem to support the argument that God does choose our destinies. I read biographies of theologians, each deeply persuaded and convicted of his stance. I felt the emotions articulated by the debaters. On one side, God’s sovereignty was at stake. On the other side, God’s mercy and fairness were in play.
Towards the end of my research, I paused from the arguments, the articles and the interpretations. I decided to look at the pattern of my life. By that point in my life, I had already noticed that my belief system was more than just a list of credos and mantras. I was well aware of the fact that whatever I believed, I acted upon. My actions were the fruit of my beliefs—the honorable and truthful and the selfish and corrupt. I fearfully accepted that whatever the outcome of my choosing was would significantly impact my life.
So, I thought about my faith—not in God, but in the idea that people can change. I thought about my capacity to hope for the unseen, to act upon what could be. I thought about Jesus’ command to go and make disciples.
I thought about Anna.
If I adopted a belief system that provided the slightest doubt that Anna might not be one of the chosen, I know what my heart would do. My heart would pre-judge and would subconsciously categorize her as someone outside God’s reach.
For Anna’s sake, and the sake of all other persons who seem “far” from God, I chose to believe that the Spirit is actively pursuing all men. That God desires for all to be saved. That his death covered every man’s offense.
This side of the fence is the only place from which I can honestly spend my life in pursuit of others.
Neal and I have a friend who landed on the other side because it released him from believing that he was responsible for his family’s salvation. He felt tremendous peace and security with God as a result. He’s now employed by a campus ministry and he is spending his life in pursuit of others. I have the utmost respect for him and I rejoice with his life’s work.
In the quietness of my heart, I believe that God is beyond the debates and the man-made sides of the fence. He is outside of our finite understanding and petty arguments. He is God. And He can do whatever He wants.
But for now, on this side of eternity, with my limited understanding, this is where I land. It’s a place where my faith is increased. It’s a place where even Penthouse models can find Jesus.