Failure with forgiveness

I recently heard an ABC radio interview with one of Australia’s leading poets, Les Murray.

Les MurrayWhat struck me most at the personal level was his statement that he embraced the Roman Catholic variety of the Christian faith “because of the sacrament” after finding that his old Calvinist Christian faith “didn’t believe in forgiveness”.

The Wikipedia information about Les Murray (at the link I included above) told me that his lifelong and evidently happy marriage also had something to do with his becoming a Catholic, but what Murray mentioned on air was that his father and others of Calvinist character had nursed lifelong anger and grudges.

This prompted me to reflect, and Helen and I discussed this also…

Our parents and in-laws were part of the Reformed (Calvinist) branch of the Christian church throughout their lives.  Despite some inevitable imperfections, we have always regarded all four of our parents as wonderful representations of Calvinist spirituality.  In our eyes they were

  • sober-minded and hardworking,
  • kind, compassionate and warm-hearted to all and sundry,
  • faithful to God, their marriage vows and their large families,
  • quietly and deeply grateful to God for all the good things they received during their lives which were quite often tough, and
  • they tried to honour God in every private, home and public area of their lives – one of the Dutch Reformed ethos’ most beloved passions.

Coming from two such nests, how could Helen and I possibly think Calvinism was harsh-hearted and unforgiving?  By God’s goodness we have always been and remain deeply appreciative and respectful of our parents’ Christian character.  And we have always wanted to maintain a similar course.

However, in the course of our almost 70 years in the Calvinist camp, we have certainly experienced that not all Calvinists are like our parents!

We are thankful that the Australian Church, like the Church in many countries, has undergone a filtering process during our lifetime: When I was young, most churches in the Caucasian world included huge numbers of what I might term “fellow travellers”: many people “went to church” for largely social, family, or work reasons.  Much of the obvious numerical decline of the Christian church in countries like Australia is because today, most people who “go to church” are committed Christians who despite their own imperfections want to be challenged, to change and to grow in Christlikeness and their walk with God.

This has meant “continuous improvement” in some respects during my 40 working years in Calvinist churches.  But it has not changed the fact that there will always be some challenging Reformed / Calvinist characters – although I find every group of human beings includes power brokers, power-mongers, troubled folk, traditionalists and “iconoclasts”, and some deeply angry and difficult people.

judgmentalCalvinism however, in addition to the usual rogues’ gallery, will give rise to its own selection of hard-to-take people –

  • people whose understanding of God’s sovereignty has lost sight of other Bible teaching;
  • those whose passion for truth is over-concentrated in the area of doctrine;
  • those who select particular faults, mistakes and sins for prosecution; and
  • Reformed ghetto-dwellers who have never realised that God’s family is larger and richer than their small branchlet.

Perhaps some of my readers can add to this tentative list?  You’re welcome!

As for Les Murray’s claim, I find it easier to believe Wikipedia’s explanation of his conversion to Catholicism than what he said on radio.  As I write these lines, the Australian Catholic Church has been further degrading itself and adding to the disdain felt towards all Christian churches by many citizens.


Because the Roman Catholic Church’s power structure has failed to act effectively against child sexual abuse, and its official claim is that whatever is confessed to a priest must be kept secret because otherwise the power of the priest and his promise of forgiveness would be compromised.

Wow!  Is that how God wants us to use authority and dispense forgiveness?

There is much that I admire and envy about the Catholic Church, and some of its clergy have been among my dearest friends.  But I suspect that failure on forgiveness is not only common among Calvinists.


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