By Dale Decker
In G. K. Chesterton’s 1908 novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, constable Gabriel Syme is recruited to be an agent of the police department’s New Detective Corps. The Chief, a shadowy figure in a dark room, inducts Syme into an undercover operation with the mission to frustrate the schemes of the Central Anarchist Council. Syme then infiltrates the seven-member Council and its plan to overthrow the laws of order with the forces of chaos. Each member’s code name corresponds to a day of the week, and Syme is Thursday. The President of the Council is Sunday.
As the story unfolds, Syme discovers, one by one, that each of the other members is also an undercover police detective recruited by the Chief. The New Detective Corp and the Central Anarchist Council are one in the same. The only true anarchist that remains is President Sunday. A chase ensues to bring down the leader of the forces of chaos. In the end (spoiler alert), the group finds out that the President and the Chief are the same person – and that the Laws of Order and the Forces of Chaos spring from the same source.
Chesterton’s story was misunderstood by many when first published. They assumed he was describing reality as he thought it truly to be. Chesterton prompted his readers to consider the subtitle of The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. In a portion of an article included in the Penguin Edition of the novel, Chesterton explains that the nightmare he intended to describe was a “world of wild doubt and despair” offered up by some pessimists of the time. In fact, one of his characters, upon the discovery that the Chief and the President are one and the same, exclaims, “It seems to make everything nonsense.”
The Theology That is Sunday: Determinism – A Nightmare
A significant portion of Calvinistic theology rests on the foundation of determinism. Calvinism’s deterministic bent comes from a false definition of God’s sovereignty. To Calvinists, God can only be sovereign over all things if he meticulously causes all things. Of course, this false definition leads to several quandaries such as “What about human free will?” and “If God causes all things, does he also cause evil?” These concerns get papered over with further complications like compatiblism, God’s two wills, etc.
But occasionally a Calvinist will say exactly what he means by determinism, like Calvinist scholar Guillaume Bignon explained to Eli Ayala on Ayala’s Revealed Apologetics podcast:
“Determinism isn’t the thesis that some things are determined, it’s the view that all things are determined… Determinism means that all things are determined.”
Ayala even banters back and forth with Bignon about how their very conversation has been determined by God from all eternity. Funny stuff to say that God is causing a conversation intended to change the minds of people whom he is simultaneously causing not to accept it. This incoherent acceptance of God working against himself is an inevitability if “determinism means that all things are determined” and is mildly amusing when confined to a conversation. In the face of real evil, it’s not so funny.
I don’t need to rehearse for you every instance of evil for you to understand the awful disjointedness that comes from believing that God actively causes the evil that the Bible says he hates, and which he calls those who love him to also hate. And let’s be honest, if determinism means that all things are determined, then God has determined (i.e. caused, decreed, ordained, made certain, etc.) all the evil acts ever committed.
Such an idea is the stuff of nightmares. Do I overstate my case? I don’t think so.
It Seems To Make Everything Nonsense
So it appears that Calvinism recruits people to God’s kingdom of righteousness and justice only to also unmask God as the source of the evil paradigm they have been called to repudiate. God is simultaneously the Chief of the Laws of Order and the President of the Forces of Chaos. God is the spring that brings forth both fresh water and salt water. God is the fig tree that bears olives. Really?
Calvinism seems to make everything nonsense.