Because I was raised Catholic (and thus lack detailed knowledge of the various Protestant sects), I am not confident in describing my current Protestant views with quick labels. A lot of what people mean by “Calvinist” applies to me, but then again on certain doctrinal issues I think that both the Calvinists and their opponents are making correct statements, but erroneously believe that their positions are mutually exclusive.
In any event, one of the hardest things for me to come to grips with, is the fact that in a certain sense God causes evil people to do what they do. This jumped out at me many years ago when I read the (familiar) story of Moses and the 10 plagues and (for the first time) realized that God was NOT up in heaven, really hoping that that stubborn Pharaoh would capitulate and let the Israelites go, without having to “force God’s hand” and make Him continue to up the ante.
What destroyed my original, childhood view of the story was this simple line: “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.”
Now there is a lifetime (and then some) of theology and philosophy packed into that line; I’m not even going to bother trying to dip into it here. (I highly recommend GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday in this vein.)
What I do want to point out is something that is very reassuring, rather than perplexing, that comes from this perspective. Specifically, when you recognize that God is in complete control–even over “the bad guys”–then you can relax. YOU CAN’T RUIN GOD’S PLAN. I know everybody (who believes in the God of the Bible) knows this, but I bet most of you are like me and occasionally slip and start worrying over your personal shortcomings, and how you’re letting everybody down. But to repeat: Stop worrying. YOU CAN’T RUIN GOD’S PLAN. You lack the power to do so.
It’s not merely that it is incorrect to worry in this way. It’s impudent to do so. If you are at all worried about the fact that you freely chose to sin this morning, because of the negative consequences of your free choice, then you are saying God wasn’t smart or powerful enough to do something to offset it.
Don’t misunderstand me; you should still try to stop sinning, and to freely choose to obey God’s commands. But the point of doing so (it seems to me) is not that this will promote earthly happiness; God is in total control and already designed every moment in the universe’s history. Rather, the point of you obeying God is so that your relationship with Him can blossom. Deep down, you know that if you constantly reject His viewpoint and make a mockery of all He holds dear, then you and He can’t be very close friends (if you’re thinking of Jesus) or you can’t feel like a good son/daughter (if you’re thinking of God the Father).