by Dr. Leighton Flowers
<our video response to Dr. White’s critique can be found below>
As my regular listeners may be aware, my wife is a marriage and family therapist who works with people struggling with deep trauma and relationship issues. She has told me a number of times that those who struggle with abandonment issues can be especially devastated by the claims of Calvinism.
Now, I understand how a Calvinist reading this post might take that as playing on the emotion of my readers, but I can assure you that is not my intention here. This is not meant to be accusatory or overly dramatic, just a fact of the matter. This is a real struggle for many who are faced with the claims of Calvinistic theology in light of their own upbringing, so please hear me out.
For those like myself who were raised by very loving parents, the terrifying fear of being unloved or unwanted by those who should love and want you the most is unfathomable. I cannot begin to understand the feeling of being rejected by those who are supposed to be there for me. I have never felt that kind of emotional devastation and do not even pretend to understand how that kind of pain can affect one’s relationships with others throughout their life.
I can imagine, however, how the unique claims of Calvinistic theology might negatively impact someone who already struggles with fear of abandonment and rejection. If my own mom and dad did not want me, why would my God? And if God is the kind of God who does not love and want many people, maybe He doesn’t really want me either? Regardless of where you stand soteriologically, that is a valid fear that impacts thousands of people that has to be addressed one way or another by therapists, pastors or friends in the real world.
Peg Streep, a psychologist, wrote an article titled, “The Unwanted Child: Feeling a Unique Kind of Hurt,” in which she retells the story of Karen, a woman now in her fifties struggling with deep emotional pain due to feeling unwanted by her parents:
“I knew from early childhood on that my parents got married because of me. I was also the reason my mother had to drop out of college which effectively wrecked her dream of becoming a lawyer like her father. And my dad had to take a job to support us instead of following his dream to become a writer. Mind you, they went on to have two other children five years after I was born. Presumably she could have gone to college when I went to kindergarten instead of having more kids, but that honestly didn’t occur me until I was in my twenties and making choices for myself. I was blamed for her life pretty much and she repaid me by ignoring me except for taking the time to heap blame and criticism on me and loving my brother and sister. They’d been chosen to be born; I hadn’t. My own children are treated differently by my parents than the children of my siblings.. It’s apparently an inescapable legacy.”
Even if being unwanted or unplanned doesn’t become part of family lore as it did in Karen’s case, the unwanted child often reports that she knew that she was somehow different and being treated differently, even at a young age:
“When my brother was born, I was four and I remember being absolutely floored by how my mom was with him—singing, cuddling him, cooing to him. She rarely touched me and what she did for me, she did in the most perfunctory way. I thought it was something I was doing, of course, and I worked so hard at trying to please her. Well, guess what? It didn’t work. My brother was her favorite, her darling. Are you surprised that Cinderella was my favorite story? My father was largely emotionally absent too—hiding behind his newspaper—so I had no support or validation at all growing up. When I was thirty, I finally worked up the courage to ask my mother why she loved my brother more and without blinking, she looked straight at me and said, ‘I never wanted a girl. I only wanted a son.’ Most people don’t believe my story, by the way, but it happens to be true.”
Now, imagine Karen sitting in a pew at a Calvinistic led church hearing a sermon about how God has chosen to love and provide for some people, but not all. Whether right or wrong, where does her mind immediately go?
God, just like my mother, loves my brother but not me.
Can you understand the devastation this might cause to her relationship with God?
Even if she confides in her Calvinistic pastor by telling him about her fear and he is somehow able to convinced her that she is one the favored ones (i.e. “the elect of God”), her heart cannot help but ache for the unwanted “reprobates” rejected by the God who picked her over them. She knows what it feels like to be one of the unwanted children and cannot help grow angry with God for doing to them what her own mother did to her.
Again, regardless of where you stand theologically, this is a real struggle that has to be answered practically in real world situations of life. How would you answer someone like Karen who has grown distant and angry with God because she had become convinced He is the kind of God who chooses to love some people before they are even born and reject all others? Is the best response to quote Romans 9 (out of context) by asking, “Who are you to talk back to God?” I cannot imagine anyone would think that is what Karen needs to hear in her pain.
I believe we have to tell Karen, and all those like her, that God is not like her own self-centered parents. I believe she must be introduced to God’s unconditional love for every man, woman, boy and girl. She needs to hear about His relentless pursuit of all the lost. She must learn that our God is one who’d rather die Himself than to see someone perish. She needs to hear about a God of love and provision for all His creation! She needs to know that there may be bad mothers and fathers in this world who do not want their own children, but God is good and no child is born unwanted by their Maker, no not one!
Help me spread that truth!
Dr. James White posted a Dividing Line broadcast critiquing this article and here is our reply: