Fatalism and Religion

As Muslims we must believe in Al Qadr. Saying “What IF” causes one to have doubt in the decree of ALLAH and opens ones ears to the evil whipspers of Shaitan which weakens our eman. It was decreed that this situation happen–Man plans but ALLAH is the best of Planners. -Arab News (Comments)

This comment on a story about the current situation in Palestine started me to thinking about the difference between fatalism predestination —and how we approach these two things as humans. There is a famous story about the father of modern missions, William Carey, giving a talk at a meeting of the Particular Baptists in the late 1700’s (close to the turn of the century). On finishing, a man stood and said, “Sit down, young man. If God wants the heathen saved he will do it without your help or mine.”

Oh how well modern heathens would prefer to live next to that Particular Baptist today.

But my point here isn’t about missions, it’s about fatalism in religious belief. That God has decreed, and we have no options, no choices, no way to do anything. There is a fine line, a balance, between fatalism and predestination that Christians need to walk to avoid stepping into the attitude of the Muslim or the Particular Baptist above. The problem is finding that line —to refuse to fall into the ditch on either side of the problem.

For God is sovereign. There is no way around this. Open theism, with a God who doesn’t know the future, is simply untenable in light of the Scriptures.

But men do have choices. There is no way around this, either. It’s built into almost every story in the Scriptures, every law, every interaction between God and man.

How to understand both of these at the same time, I simply don’t know. I’ve made some attempts at putting them together, but I’m certain they all fall short in one way or another. But I know they are both true.

The danger of fatalism is simple, and illustrated in the comment posted to a story about the choices of the Arab world around Palestine above (the article, itself, is worth reading, by the way). If we believe that God is choosing, then we are frozen into a sort of paralysis, where we simply won’t choose. If all things are God’s choice, then humans have no need to choose. Should I choose the red or the blue tennis shoes this morning? It doesn’t matter, God has already chosen. If I wind up with one of each color, on the wrong foot, well, that’s God’s doing, not mine.

It seems to me that we must guard against such thought, for down this path leads the most totalitarian governments, and the most dreadful and dead lives we can imagine. There is almost no surer way to quench the life of a man than to tell him that it doesn’t matter what he does, his fate is certain in all cases. If you want to see someone fail at work, tell them they are going to be rated poorly no matter what they do.

Islam is probably the most fatalistic religion on the face of the Earth today.

As Christians, it’s important that we not fall for fatalism. Yes, God is sovereign. Yes, the ultimate ends are up to him. But yes, your prayers do matter. And yes, it’s important that you study the Scriptures, and witness, and ask for forgiveness for sins, and teach your children in the way of truth, and fight against evil where you can, and…

Understand that God is sovereign, but don’t make that an excuse for not standing up and living the Christian life in its fullness. “What if,” is not an evil question to ask.

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  • Tom Comstock

    I would like to offer the following unpopular truth claims. In response to the Particular Baptists position, like all positions, we should look to the scriptures to see if we are first being obedient. We don’t have to fully understand why in order to obey. I think most folks could easily find verses that contradict that particular position (I don’t need to share the gospel ‘cause God is in control). Therefore, I really don’t see how that example sheds any light on the subject matter, fatalism and predestination.

    As for predestination: the bible provides us with God’s commandments. However, as Jesus made clear to the natural man who is born spiritually dead, that because of his fallen condition he cannot keep these commandments – ye are already condemned. Then why do we have verses such as, “Choose this day whom you will serve”? We are commanded to choose. However, no where in scripture does it say that natural man in his fallen, spiritually dead state can choose the things of God. The bible clearly states the opposite, it is not possible. We are responsible to be obedient to God’s commandments while at the same time, we are totally dependent on God’s power to obey them. If we fail, we are still guilty. If we are able to succeed, it is only by his power and spirit and glory. Now read Romans 9:18-23. Also, try this sermon by Spurgeon – http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0182.htm.

    As for fatalism: this is an important topic because it often leads to disobedience. Look at the church’s current obsession with the end times. That everything is going to God’s plan and that Christians should not get involved as things are supposed to get darker and then we’ll all be raptured out. Even if this were scripturally true, which I don’t believe it is, it still doesn’t relieve us of our duties to lead the nations to the truth of Christ’s authority over this world. Not doing so by hiding behind God’s sovereignty is disobedient and a perfect example of what you have referred to here as fatalism. Whether we obey or not, God is still sovereign and we are still responsible even if He turns us over to our desires. Without God, we are helpless to execute his will. With Him, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven. Notice how “end times” fatalism serves as an excuse for not establishing His kingdom on earth. The devil must love this fatalist position since all power and authority in this world has been given to Christ, King of Kings. Every nation shall bow. When are we going to demand that our government bow before the King of Kings and put an end to this “end times” fatalism and disobedience?

    We must stop denying God’s sovereignty in salvation – predestination.

    We must stop using God’s sovereignty as an excuse to shirk our responsibility of establishing His Kingdom on earth because of self-fulfilling “end times” prophecies which deny Christ’s authority as King of Kings – fatalism.

    All glory to God, all duty to man.