All the various religions and philosophies past and present are variants on three basic worldviews: Calvinism, atheism, and Manichaeism.
For example, freewill theism in its various forms (e.g. Arminianism, open theism) is a variant on the Zoroastrian or Manichean outlook on life. Representatives of this viewpoint include Zoroaster, Mani, Arminius, Wesley, Roger Olsen, Clark Pinnock, and Gregory Boyd–to name a few.
The theology of the Arminian, Manichaean or Zoroastrian is essentially and radically dualistic. He may claim to be a monotheist, but he’s really a bitheist or ditheist. In his theology, “God” is a code word for the good God (Zurvan/Ahura Mazda) while “Satan” is a code word for the evil God (Ahriman/Angra Mainyu).
The Arminian, Manichaean, or Zoroastrian must oh-so gingerly pick his through the minefield of life, assigning the good things to Zurvan’s creative hand and the bad things to Ahriman’s creative hand. All the good things were made by Zurvan while all the bad things were made by Ahriman.
He tiptoes through the world, in a chronic state of tension, for he never knows–from one moment to the next–what lies around the corner. Which part of the world will he bump into? The part made by Zurvan, or the part made by Ahriman? In his theology, it’s all-important to distinguish the two and put each one in airtight compartments. The neo-Manichean oscillates between blessing and cursing his lot in life.
By contrast, the Calvinist accepts everything from God’s hand with thanksgiving and gratitude. For the Calvinist only believes in one God. He accepts the totality of God’s handiwork and overruling providence. The tragedy with the comedy. For you can’t have the comic upturn without the tragic downturn.
For a Calvinist, every experience that God sends our way is a way to experience the goodness of God. A way to discover the wisdom of God. The greatness of God. We need to learn how to find the value each experience that God has given us. For what makes our own life good and meaningful comes from sharing in his goodness.
Of course, this doesn’t come naturally or easily. A Calvinist doesn’t like pain and suffering anymore than the next man. But we live by faith, trusting in the wisdom and goodness of God. For God brings good out of evil, and he decreed the fall for that very purpose.
You can go through life, like the Arminian, Manichean, and Zoroastrian, kicking and screaming and biting and scratching every step of the way. Curse the darkness. Rage, rage against the dying light.
Or, like the Calvinist, you can put your faith in God and then begin to seek the hidden, deeper wisdom of his designs. It’s not that everything is good in itself. Some things are evil, taken in isolation. But they exist for good reason.
Life in a fallen world is often harsh. Full of loss and longing. Yet you, and all your loved ones, are fallen creatures, too. Were it not for a fallen world, none of your loved ones would even exist. Be in your life, for long or short.
And life in a fallen world is a place in which some of us are also favored to learn what it feels like to be redeemed. Delivered. Forgiven.
And then there’s atheism. The atheist, like the Manichean, and his modern counterparts, sees no good in evil. No overarching purpose.
The Arminian wants the good without the bad, while the atheist–by disowning God–loses the good. All that’s left is irredeemable evil.
An Arminian hangs onto his tenuous faith by remaining sufficiently plastered to avoid lucid thoughts about God, good, and evil. An Arminian is a boozy atheist, while an atheist is a sober Arminian.
By contrast, the Calvinist doesn’t live in a state of acute anxiety and chronic recrimination.
A father gives his five-year-old son a pet dog. Over the years, the son will grow to love the dog. The dog will never betray him. The dog is always happy to greet him and be with him. Overjoyed to share his company. The dog will be with him throughout his childhood and adolescence.
Yet, when the father gives his young son a dog, he knows the day will come when his grown son must say good-bye. Must bury the dog.
The lifespan of a dog is brief compared to the lifespan of a man. The boy will outlive the dog. And then he will be full of sorrow. He will miss the dog. The pain of separation. Emptiness.
Was it cruel to give his son a dog–foreknowing the outcome? Knowing full well that his son would become very attached to the dog–only to watch it age and die, or even put it to sleep? Should the son blame his dad? Hate his dad?
Or should he cherish the greater good in having a dog–if only for a time? That it’s better to have happiness with sadness than not to have the happiness without the sadness?