Many people look at the ideas of contemporary socially conservative Christians and are shocked, that their views seem so extreme and oppressive, from a socially liberal point of view. The original ideas of Calvinism have often been criticized, even within the Christian community, as being unkind and uncompromising. Calvin emphasized some things, that before then and even today, people don't want to hear about, which come directly from what Jesus said and did.
Our popular conception of Jesus is that he was all about compassion and humility, which is very true, but there is more to a balanced life and the teachings of Jesus than that. It is more difficult to ignore this in the writings of the Apostle Paul, in the letters to the early churches, which are now part of the New Testament. God is not just compassionate and forgiving. He has an absolute and unchanging moral standard for us.
God is first and foremost all powerful and perfectly God. He was the only One, Who created us directly, in a model that reflects His spirit and His mind. He had established certain guidelines, for us to follow, which we rejected and all suffering comes, as a result of this. This is exactly what sin is: we know in our hearts what is right and wrong, but we deliberately rejects this, for momentary pleasure. We create our own prisons and suffer, from our own actions.
God did not give us a code of conduct, because of some arbitrary exercise of His will. God hates sin, because it hurts us, not Him. God does not need us, but the reverse is not true: we need God. God does not want to punish or control us. He wants to free us, from suffering and return to being part of His family. The reason why Christ came to earth and lived as fully human, while still being fully God, was not just to heal people, or even show us how to live well.
God, as Jesus Christ, took upon Himself the terrible consequences of our sins and created a very trivial way, for us to be restored, to His family and not suffer for eternity, because of our actions. He made a sacrifice of Himself, to reconcile within Himself the absolute standard, of His purity of morality, which is His identity, and at same time be, merciful and accept us, even though we have rebelled against Him, for no good reason. He suffered, in our place.
Much of Christian theology and, especially the description of God, in the Bible, introduces us to paradox after paradox. How can God be perfectly good and not compromise, but still forgive us and be merciful to us, when we deliberately choose evil and reject Him? This is the biggest reason why Christ came to earth: to die on the cross for our sins. Because we could never be good enough and earn his forgiveness, He suffered our punishment, after being perfectly good and suffering, while He lived, as we do, with all our limitations.
So modern man sees the world, as the emergence of man and his ability to dominate and control nature, as the highest good, but we know better than that. What has humanity decided to do, with the power they acquired, through learning how to control and gaining power over the created world? If we are so wise, why do we continue to destroy the earth, more each year, even as we recognize the need to cut back and let the earth rest and start to clean up our poisoning of the earth?
We look for solutions to the destruction of all other life on earth and we fail to realize that we will never find a solution, that we can create, because we are the problem. Our energy problems will not be solved, by creating more energy, and we will not bring peace on the earth, by legislation or through humanitarian aid. We are not at a crisis, because we cannot meet our needs. Our fundamental problem can only be solved by our Creator, the Christian God, because our problem is with our own lack of self control.
It has been clear what we needed to do, to fix the world's problems: to share our resources with each other and the other species on earth. The reason why we cannot make this happen is that we are addicted to energy. Sin is basically the same as addiction.
While we very much have the ability to change, we choose not to. Just like in an addiction, we must accept the paradox, that we both don't have the power within ourselves to cut back and, at the same, we are fully responsible. We both need to make better choices, while also accepting that we will ultimately fail, without direct divine intervention.
Being an addict is both about free choice and about humility. Just because we have outside help and we don't have the strength to change, the only way we will change is to find it within ourselves, to care enough and overcome our selfishness and then actually make better choices. The changes are completely dependent on our willingness to change.
No matter what God does, if we do not make the effort and overcome our weakness, nothing will change. We are both fully responsible for our poor choices, but also will not find it within ourselves alone to change. We both need to have the power but also the will to change.
So how does this relate to Calvinism? Calvin realized that accepting, that we are undeserving of forgiveness, we are fully responsible for our all actions, and that we fully deserve, to be punished for it. God offers unconditional acceptance and mercy, and, in response, we only have to accept responsibility, for our actions, feel sorry for what we did, and choose to not do it again (although we will continue to fail).
For His grace, God requires us unconditional surrender, to His control, over our lives. This is not a one time decision, but a long term journey, where we need to continue, to submit our wills to God. Salvation is free and God gets full credit and we get none. At the same time, we must give up everything, for this to work.
Thinking you deserve a good life is not going to get you anywhere. Accepting that no one owes you anything is the first step to happiness. You are always fully responsible, for all your actions and, while God forgives you fully and unconditionally, in this life you will often suffer the consequences of both your bad choices and the bad choices of others.
Heaven is pure bliss, but life on earth is not fair. Do you really want to be judged fairly for your choices in life? Then you must choose God, instead of yourself, every day, for the rest of your life. You greatest enemy is yourself and you will never conquer your pride and selfishness, without divine intervention.
All of us our equally bad and are in the same boat. Salvation is free, but it will cost you everything (your pride and the credit for your own salvation).