A Doctrine to be Whispered
I do not often shout at my wife. If not for some foolish moments of indiscretion in my youth, I could even say I never shout at her. Why? Well, I would like to convince you of how noble I am, but that’s not really the truth in this situation. The bottom line, I would have to say, is that it simply just does not work. I always lose, and I hate losing.
For some reason, every time I have shouted at Miriam it has failed to move her to see things my way. Can you believe that? The Proverbs say, “The anger of man does not accomplish the purposes of God.” The few experiments where I have tried to prove the opposite hypothesis have ended in dismal failure. I have pulled a few Mount Merapis on her, which I think I could count on no more than my own fingers (though I am sure Miriam, being the sweet helpmeet she is, would lend me hers for the ones I have forgotten). At those times, I have only succeeded 1) in convincing her how utterly wrong I am anyway, 2) in making it nearly impossible to communicate further, and 3) in creating a stituation where only some serious confessing has reconciled the situation. So though I could offer piety as a reason I have learned to control my temper, I have to say losing has been the more powerful motivator for me. Like a dog that learns to stop barking to avoid the old swat across the snout, I have been trained.
(By the way, this may be off the point a bit, but I can say Miriam has never shouted at me. I certainly have given her ample reasons for doing so, but not once has she really yelled at me. She also does not have any cavities. Now you can understand even better why I think twice before opening my mouth wide in her direction.)
On the positive side of our marital harmony, which at twenty years plus is going strong, is that, at the times where our communication is most intimate, quiet talk and even whispering is taking place. Usually expressions of love and devotion mean more when spoken softly. I have also had to have a lot of training in this area as well.
So where does that leave us? Yelling ruins communication; speaking gently enhances it.
With this in mind, could this be one reason (certainly not the only or chief reason) that some of the great doctrines of the reformed faith are so despised? They are given to us by the Lover of our souls to speak gently and soothingly to hearts of His precious love for us. But what do we do with them? We take them, shout them at people, and then wonder why so few believe them. As one of my mentors in the faith likes to say, it is not the truthfulness but the tone that is under discussion here.
Take the doctrine of limited atonement, or particular redemption, for instance. Reformed folk typically like to take this teaching and have endless debates about it, give a black & white, twenty-installment defense of its truthfulness, or, in the worst cases, use it like the Westboro Baptist Church to justify expressions of hatred. In so doing, they are yelling what needs to be whispered.
For limited atonement is about God’s love. God’s redemptive love is so special that He did not send His precious Son to die an ignoble death just to make salvation a possibility for anyone; God sent His Son to die on behalf of those He has loved for eternity to make salvation a reality for each particular one. Read this familiar verse softly to yourself and see if you cannot hear the quiet reverence in Paul’s tone brought on by the knowledge of God’s particular love: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). If you know Christ, do you not hear hear the Spirit of God testifying with these words in gentle tones of the love of Jesus for you in a way that leaves your spine tingling and your heart racing? Christ loves me.
As the Westminster Confession of Faith says about another of our doctrines, limited atonement is also to be “handled with special prudence and care, that men…may…be assured of their eternal election.” We use some tools such as a hammer to pound and bang away to bring the point of the nail home, and certain doctrines need to be taught with some pounding and banging for that purpose. But using a hammer to drive in a wood screw can split and damage the wood, where instead the quiet, determined action of a screwdriver can draw the two pieces together. Should not the doctrine of limited atonement be used to draw hearts to the heart of Christ quietly rather than loudly driving them away?
As marriage teaches loud, crude men who are willing to learn, soft speech and gentle actions can go a long way. Yes, we can get people’s attention by shouting, but a whisper can also do the same and actually prepare the hearer for the message they are about to be told. Believe that Christ died for you, and tell others of it – softly, humbly, reverently.
For the holier the ground, the quieter the worshipper.