Ends and Means


I am, as might be evident from certain previous posts, a Calvinist. I remain so, even though my good friend David has taken me to the dry cleaners on the issue of limited atonement in the comments of another post concerning that doctrine (David, if you still follow this blog, I’d love to continue that conversation; I’ll get in touch with you).

An important aspect of theology is the discussion of categories, and an important aspect of Calvinist theology is having a category for ends and means. Ends may be thought of (a little simplistically) as things to be accomplished, and means may be thought of as how those things are to be accomplished.

In conversations with people, I’ve always struggled to know how to communicate this in a clear and understandable way, and my friend/boss/pastor Kerry Bender gave an illustration the other day which I think nailed it. Here it is:

Once a little girl was spending the weekend at her grandparents house. When she woke up one morning, she wandered downstairs and into the kitchen to find both her grandparents sitting at a little table while water boiled in a kettle on the stovetop. So the little girl asked her grandfather, “Grandpa, why is the water boiling?”
“Well, sweetheart, when your grandma turned the knob on the stove,  gas started flowing through the burners and was ignited, creating a flame. That flame is transferring energy in the form of heat to the copper kettle, and since copper is a very good conductor, the heat is quickly and efficiently being transferred to the water inside. As that heat is being transferred it’s causing all the little water molecules to heat up and become agitated, and eventually reach a point of such agitation that it has become visible, and that’s why the water is boiling.” With that the little girl’s grandfather sat back in his chair, confident that he had given a solid scientific answer. But the little girl turned to her grandmother and repeated the question: “Grandma, why is the water boiling?”
With an amused look at her husband, the old woman replied, “The water is boiling because we’re having tea.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s