Fate or Free Will: Can You Really Have Both?
We have similar sayings here, in the United States. "His time was up," and "It was God's will," are expressions we frequently hear when death or tragedy strikes. The commonality of these slogans is the idea that our lives are not our own, that we are predestined to live our lives a certain way (and for a certain time) by a powerful being or force from whose grasp we cannot break free.
Some, however, would say that this notion of fate has no basis in reality, that humans have the freedom to make choices whose outcomes determine an individual's future. Proponents of this theory contend that belief in fate demonstrates laziness; people who say that their lives are predestined really mean that, since they are powerless to change their destiny, whatever happens is determined to happen, and they are absolved of the responsibility to decide, or reap the consequences of any decision.
You may think that these theories are of polarly opposite ideologies, so disparate in core principals as to be irreconcilable with each other. However, despite the radically different philosophies presented by each of these theories, we do see individuals trying to bridge the gap between these two concepts with the "Christian" theory of Divine Predestination. Proponents of this theory feel that God has granted humans a certain amount of free will, but that He determines how they will use that free will and how the choices they make will turn out. He determines how and when individuals die. As with fatalists, proponents of Divine predestination feel that there is no way to escape His grasp. Nor is the theory of Divine Predestination merely adopted by a small minority. In the Western world, this concept is so pervasive that it can even be seen in the way insurance companies' refer to flood, storm, and earthquake damage: "Acts of God."
But is this a Christian belief? A scholarly examination of the argument presented by this theory is not necessary in order to reveal its self-destructing core logic; a mere modicum of research into biblical teachings reveals how this viewpoint is actually slanderous of God.
If God determines how people exercise their free will, how they live, and how they die, then He is personally responsible for all tragedies and injustices seen in the world today. This does not fit with what we are told at 1 John 4:8, "God is love." Not, "God has love," but "God is love." He is the personification of love. Would a god who personifies love really have a list that goes, "Today, John will get hit by a car, Linda will die after fifty-two weeks of battling cancer, Joseph's house will be destroyed in a fire…?"
Many, though not all, of the problems people face today, the personal battles we all struggle with, are a result of personal decisions that have come back to bite us; many, but not all. What about problems, disasters, and tragedies that seem to have no human cause, e.g., earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and floods? Do not these events necessitate a Divine cause? Why not look to an authority on the subject, the very Son of God?
Christ Jesus himself mentioned a tragedy that occurred during the first century of our common era:
"4 Or those 18 on whom the tower in Si·lo′am fell, killing them—do you think that they had greater guilt than all other men who live in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you;" (Luke 13:4, 5 NWT)
Some people of the time evidently attributed the deaths of those 18 people to some great sins that they had committed which made them "greater debtors" than the rest of the city's inhabitants. In effect, they were saying that God had killed those people because they deserved it, but Jesus plainly and clearly said that this was not the case. So what source could this tragedy be attributed to?
Notice what we find in the book of Ecclesiastes:
"I have seen something further under the sun, that the swift do not always win the race, nor do the mighty win the battle, nor do the wise always have the food, nor do the intelligent always have the riches, nor do those with knowledge always have success, because time and unexpected events overtake them all." (Ecclesiastes 9:11, NWT)
Yes, 'time and unexpected events overtake us all,' or as the King James renders it, 'time and chance.' Do you know another saying we have in the United States? [Crap] happens. While at times used callously, this expression is largely accurate about many of life's situations; sometimes people are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What, though, about unexplained deaths from illnesses? The Bible gives this blunt description of the human condition: "In Adam all are dying." (1 Corinthians 15:22, NWT)
What about poverty? Belief in fate has often encouraged sufferers to resign themselves to their difficult existence, believing that it is their destiny. The Bible shows, however, that human imperfection, not fate, is to blame. Some become poor when they 'reap what they have sown' through laziness or mismanagement of resources, while other countless millions live in poverty because they are victimized by greedy men in power. "Man has dominated man to his harm." (Ecclesiastes 8:9, NWT) Why blame God for this?
Understand, too, that belief in fate is more than merely incorrect, it is dangerous! Belief in fate can suppress one's sense of responsibility, or obligation, toward God, who sets certain requirements for those who would serve Him. One such requirement is repentance. As imperfect humans, all of us have much of which we need to repent. But if a person believes that he is a helpless victim of fate, it is difficult to feel a need to repent or to take responsibility for his errors.
Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, belief in fate has led millions to believe that God is the source of their misery. Apart from the Greeks (and, indeed, I reference the Greeks merely in a comical manner), who would want to serve a god that demonstrates such abuse of his power? Would such a god even be worthy of worship? Do you see how this belief in Divine Predestination is a barrier to a relationship with our creator?
So, if this belief is to be a barrier to our salvation, it must be discarded. This can be difficult to accept for some, especially if they have been raised from childhood to believe that everything that happens is according to God's plan, a belief that many actually find comforting.
But, remember what Jesus said at Mark 9: 43-47, NWT:
"43 “If ever your hand makes you stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than to go off with two hands into Ge·hen′na, into the fire that cannot be put out. 44 —— 45 And if your foot makes you stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life lame than to be thrown with two feet into Ge·hen′na. 46 —— 47 And if your eye makes you stumble, throw it away. It is better for you to enter one-eyed into the Kingdom of God than to be thrown with two eyes into Ge·hen′na."
No, our hand is not more valuable than our life, nor is our foot, nor our eye. Should a false belief be viewed any differently, or should we allow sentimentality to keep us cemented in ideologies that would cost us our lives? Once we know the truth about something, there is no going back; we have the responsibility to act on our accurate knowledge, and will be judged by our Creator accordingly.
So, having seen the truth of this matter, what will we do? The Sovereign of the Universe is awaiting our answer.