My Question: Understanding fatalism

(Andi Liu) #1

Hi everyone, I am wrestling with how the God of the Bible is not a fatalistic god. I can see how submissive Jesus was while praying to the Father on the night he was betrayed. I understand it was Jesus’ own choice in going to the cross, it was not because “it is what it is” about this fallen world, therefore, he “must” submit to God’s will. But somehow, I cannot wrap my head around it just yet. Can someone help me see more clearly on this?

(SeanO) #3

@andiliuphotography Great question! First, let’s get a working definition of fatalism. It sounds like you already has a similar definition - “it is what it is”.

“Fatalism teaches that what is to be will be. It does not matter what you do or say, it is going to happen. What is to be will be. Therefore it is utter folly to strive or make any effort. Fatalism teaches that you can do nothing about life, that there are powers and factors controlling you inexorably, and holding you in the grip of a rigid determinism.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones(Studies in the Sermon on the Mount)

Let us also consider the story of Oedipus. In that story, a prophecy was made that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother - very awful. So Oedipus’ father put him in the wilderness to die. But, as fate would have it, Oedipus was rescued by another couple, grew up, learned about the prophecy, fled his adoptive parents, killed his actual father and married his actual mother. Fate is something that cannot be escaped even if you try to escape it.

Why Jesus’ Submission is not Fatalism

The beauty of what Jesus did is that He did have the power to change His future! He had authority to change His fate! Unlike Oedipus, Jesus had the power and authority to resist the cross if He had wanted. The Father had not created a fate that Jesus was doomed to live out. Jesus chose freely to submit to the Father to save us - nothing like the story of Oedipus or fatalism. The very opposite!

John 10:17-18 - The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Matthew 26:53 - Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?

In addition, God is not fatalistic. He offers us a free choice and will judge us on the Last Day according to the secrets of our hearts. With that statement, let’s investigate the larger problem of free will vs sovereignty.

The Problem of Free Will and Sovereignty

The below quote is taken from an article by William Lane Craig. To sum up, it basically states that the Bible is clear that God has foreordained history and that we, as humans, have the ability to obey or not obey God. How do we reconcile these two truths?

"The great 17th century Reformed theologian Francis Turretin held that a careful analysis of Scripture leads to two indubitable conclusions, both of which must be held in tension without compromising either one:

that God on the one hand by his providence not only decreed, but most certainly secures, the event of all things, whether free or contingent; on the other hand, however, man is always free in acting and many effects are contingent. Although I cannot understand how these can be mutually connected together, yet (on account of ignorance of the mode) the thing itself is (which is certain from another source, i.e., from the Word) not either to be called in question or wholly denied ( Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1: 512)."

Solution 1 - Accepting Mystery

It is clear in Scripture, as we see in Deuteronomy 29:29, that what God has revealed of Himself He has done so that we might enjoy relationship with Him. How to reconcile free will and sovereignty is often held as one of those mysteries.

Deuteronomy 29:29 - The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Solution 2 - Molinism

Solution 3 - The Calvinist / Armenian Options

If you’re really interested, here is a debate on Calvinism vs Arminianism. I think it is edifying - the two brothers do not disrespect or question each other’s salvation, which too often can happen in these types of discussions.

Does God know what my decisions will be before I do?
(Andi Liu) #4

@SeanO Thanks for your reply and the great resources! After reading through Dr. Craig’s article, I am beginning to see that “determinism” is not rationally sustainable. Craigs writes:

“When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.”

I could immediately see this a strong argument that if our rationale is to throw us into a vertigo, circular thinking, or confusion all the time “you can’t escape even if you try to escape it” like you described it, then there is no true freedom, no true responsibility, and everything that I do or strive for would be meaningless.

However, the biggest struggle I have is whether or not God ordained all the events in history. Since God has the foreknowledge of what is required for the atonement of sin, doesn’t it mean also He ordained those events that “must” come to pass so that through the man’s choices Jesus was crucified? Doesn’t that sound like “deterministic view”? Doesn’t It also sound like God sets up certain circumstances that the most possible decision made by man would be one carrying out His purpose?

If Molinism is true, then how is it that an all-knowing, all-decreeing God, makes it possible for Himself to exercise providential control over his creation?

(SeanO) #5

@andiliuphotography At this point I need to ask a few questions about what you personally believe - because your interpretive framework determines (no pun intended) the answer to this question.

First, do you think that Jesus cooperated with the Father in the foreordainment of the Gospel? If yes, then this is not fatalism for Jesus because Jesus is also the author of history. Jesus participated in the decision. Jesus was both Author and Actor - the story was not happening to Him - He had been part of the ordaining before the world began.

Do you think Molinism is true? Or do you think Armenianism might be true? Or would you lean towards John Lennox’s explanation that it is simply a mystery? I am not committed to one framework, though I lean towards mystery or free will. So I do not want to push this question about Jesus into one framework.

If you did not get a chance to, I recommend watching John Lennox’s video - a very good point.

(David Salvador) #7

The way I look at it is like this, to be fatalistic is to be deterministic. Meaning you have no free will over the matter. I don’t think that’s entirely true. If you don’t have God in your life, if you don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, then you don’t have he Holy Spirit. Therefore, you are born in your natural sin and therefore determined to die in your sin. For sin is death. Doesn’t get anymore fatalistic than that. However, with Jesus, we are allowed to make a choice. Follow Him and accept Him as Lord and Savior, and break free from the fatalistic bondage of sin.

(Jimmy Sellers) #8

In the Dr Craig interview he mentioned subjunctive conditionals and quoted 1 Cor 2:8. I have often thought there were other instances in the Bible were God appeared to offer a choice, that if taken the other way would have changed or delayed certain out comes. A few come to mind, the Israelite agreeing to obey all that God said without questioning the regulation and words of Yahweh.

“All the words that Yahweh has spoken we will do.” (Ex 24:3).

Can you think of any other verse or situations that would fall in to the subjunctive conditionals category?

(Andi Liu) #10

@SeanO I do personally believe that the Son participated in the decision because He is God in the foreknowledge of things. As both Actor and Author of the salvation plan, Jesus could have declined in going through with the Plan. So I could say, he did make a choice out of love to go through this awful thing. Knowing there would not be another Perfect Man even if he tried to escape the plan, Jesus chose to live as a Son of Man. Again, I see both God ordaining things and Jesus’ choice in going. It’s as if he knew Who Needs to go and What Needs to happen.

Then, I came across this short clip by John Piper John Piper’s on God having ordained all thing, and I struggle through what he said a lot.

Isn’t it fatalism that Piper is teaching? Wouldn’t this kind of thinking leads to total passivity, sin, blaming God for our wrong decisions…

I believe God is holy and He cannot lie. Therefore no evil originates from Him in any event He pre-determines. What Piper is saying is that God knows who NEEDS to win even in a game of Scrabble. I want to see God not being responsible for human errors, rapes, terrorism, murder…How do I explain to myself that God can still be in control of events while not being responsible for human freedom of choice?

Of course, Romans 8:28 comes to mind that He works all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Of course, God doesn’t call crucifixion itself good, but He works it out so Christ could die once and for all by living out the plan of atonement for our sin both in the timelessness and in time for the good purpose of saving us from death and condemnation.

(SeanO) #11

@andiliuphotography First, let’s ask a question. Do you think that John Piper is right that God determines who wins a game of scrabble? I, for one, do not think that is correct at all and I feel no need to defend its difference from fatalism. Could God control the outcome? Yes. Does He always? No, I do not think so.

I really like John Lennox’s approach - God ordains history and our choices are our own and have consequences. How do those two work together? That is a mystery.

John Piper proposes a version of Calvinism as the explanation. William Lane Craig proposes Molinism. Steve Gregg espouses free will and arminianism.

Does it really matter who is right? We know God is sovereign over history. We know our choices have consequences. There is no need to understand the details to obey and love God. That is not to say I do not think there is value in studying it, but I do think we must come with extreme humility to such complex topics. I like N. T. Wright’s approach of critical realism. The critical realist has an opinion but recognizes when they are not 100% certain and are always willing to change their mind in the face of new facts.

If you want Biblical arguments for both Calvinism and Arminianism, please see the debate I posted between Steve Gregg and the other gentleman. I think at this point you need to step back from the attempt to differentiate from determinism and decide what you really believe about this topic. That is not to say you will have the final answer, but perhaps it is time to spend a few months studying and ask yourself these types of questions:

Do I believe that we have a free will? What is the Biblical evidence?

Do I believe God ordains history? What is the Biblical evidence?

Do I believe the Bible tells us how these two things work together? What is the evidence?

I recommend John Lennox’s book on this topic and Steve Gregg’s debate as a great starting place. My recommendation is not to try to solve the problem of free will vs sovereignty. My recommendation is to seek, by God’s Spirit, to have peace about the issue based upon what you can know.

(Andi Liu) #12

@SeanO Thanks for the book of Dr. Lennox. I will certainly take up the reading and study challenge.
I want to thank everyone’s feedback on this discussion.

I am thankful that God is patient as I am going through with this wrestling, which is considered a biblical sport from of old. Coming now into this forum with these questions is a grieving I am carrying after losing my 17-year old boy to a fatal accident just less than 2 months ago. I am seeking for answers that can both satisfy on both emotional and intellectual levels. I am truly thankful for this forum that I could reach out to during this trying and difficult time.


(Melvin Greene) #13

@andiliuphotography, I just wanted to let you know that I’m praying for you and that the Lord Jesus gives you a peace that only He can give.

(SeanO) #14

@andiliuphotography I am so sorry to hear about your son and I am thankful that you are able to have a community like Connect where you can bring your questions. May the Lord Jesus grant you both knowledge of God and a deep sense of Christ’s abiding Presence. I have not lost a child, but I can say that when I have leaned into Christ during times of great grief I have always found that He provided the resources I needed, both intellectual and spiritual.

Always feel free to ask the hard questions here and to push for clarification. We are all growing together as we seek Christ amidst a broken and hurting world. The peace of Christ be with your spirit.

(Lakshmi Mehta) #15

May God give you the understanding and comfort to take you through this difficult time. Thanks for sharing.

(Carson Weitnauer) #16

Hi @andiliuphotography, you will be in my prayers. I am so grateful we could be a resource for you in this difficult time. I cannot say that I know what you are going through, but I do know that I would want people praying for me and humbly walking alongside me as I lived with that grief and loss. Thank you for this opportunity to be praying for you and to be processing some of the questions that come up as well.

(angelina Edmonston) #17

The John Lennon’s video is awesome. Humble and simple.

(Tim Ramey) #18

Andi, I cannot tell you adequately how grieved I am to hear of you losing your precious 17 year old son. Years ago, I was in a firefighting accident and was paralyzed. I was active - really, hyperactive! Now I couldn’t walk and run, hike and do all of the athletic things I used to do. But I saw that I still had my wife and my 7 children. I realized that my accident was difficult but I still had my loved ones. I am so sorry as I realized to lose my wife or a child would be the worst thing that could happen to me.

The hurt that you feel can never be soothed unless you received your son back. But Andi, not saying this heartlessly or callously, but Jesus is a Redeemer. He will take that loss and use it in your life to help others who are in a similar situation and you can speak to their hurt because you know exactly what they are going through.

A dear saint that recently went home to Jesus told me that, when she was beaten raped and tortured as a missionary in Congo for 7 months, the Lord spoke plainly to her. She was instructed by the Lord, not to thank Him for the evil that she had endured, but to thank Him that the Lord could trust her with this horrific situation, even though she may never know why. So it is with you, I believe Andi. A pastor or counselor that would ever tell you to thank God for allowing this is not right. Rather, thank Him that, as a Redeemer, that He trusted you that you would not turn your back on Him even if you never understood why this happened. You are stronger than you think and He knew that He could trust you.

Not only is God as patient with you as you wrestle with this, but He weeps with you, seeing His precious child in pain. Again, I’m so sorry

(Andi Liu) #19

Thank you for all your support and prayers. The availability of your presence through prayers has made real for me the comfort during this difficult time. I feel truly touched by the consolation I received from all of you.

It is very true like Tim said:

It rings so true, because eternity has been placed in my heart by God, and my boy has somehow taken a part of me with him to eternity with God. Though I don’t know when I will see him again, I know I will. But heaven can seem so very far away even though I am grounded with the promise in Jesus on this side of glory.

It brings me to tears when I read what Tim wrote about how God has given the kind of faith to entrust me with this kind of hurt. I don’t know how yet that He will bring the beauty out of this awful thing. There are days I just couldn’t work but feel purposeless and the pain of this sudden loss. But I will trust that in faith that I will earn the right to speak to those who suffer like I do.

But I have been thinking about the question “Do we have free will? What’s the evidence of that?” this week.
As I read accounts of many prisoners of war, Holocaust survivors, medically related sufferers, one thing that’s clear is everything else has literally taken away from them, except for one thing. When class, education degree, how much money you earned were canceled out in concentration camps, or medical condition that struck the rich and the poor, many would say their circumstance is determining their fate regardless of how they would try to escape or change it. In the field of neuroscience, they even describe certain illnesses (ie. epilepsy) to be the determinant of the lives of the patients, in spite of what modern medicine could provide.

But not so according to the account of these Holocaust, illness survivors, POWs in the most depressed circumstances: One thing they said that could never be taken away from them is their will, their attitude, their imagination.

Their choice to trust that God showed them in small but real way telling them He was with them during the imprisonment. Like the short Bible verse that got smuggled in a matchbox by a stranger to Christian Reger, who had belonged to the Confessing Church under the leader of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others in opposing Hitler, was turned to the authorities by his church organist. Was he always hanging onto God? No. In fact, after being interrogated and in his first month in imprisonment, he abandoned all hope in a loving God. But after receiving the verse hidden away in the matchbox, seems like a miracle that could only be demonstrated by God, assured him He was alive, and there beside him.

I do believe that asking the “Why” question is a relational one. It’s like asking, “God, did you desire the Holocaust happened?” “God, did you orchestrate my boy’s death?” “God, are you there with me in this pain?” Even if I choose to believe that it is a mystery like Prof. Lennox mentioned, I still needed to know if this suffering and pain meaningful. It would remain meaningless unless we feel God is sympathetic to our pain, besides us in our pain, or able to feel that pain, and able to do something with this pain and through it that becomes bigger than the pain itself.

(SeanO) #20

@andiliuphotography Thank you again for opening up your heart. It is so true that asking God hard questions is a relational act. It sounds like you have already found some beautiful stories of how God has met people in their darkest places. I simply wanted to point out a few places in the Scriptures that remind is of Jesus’ compassion and love for us in the midst of our trials. I am sure they are familiar to you, but I pray by way of remembrance that the Spirit may encourage your heart.

Hebrews says that Jesus has been through what we have been through and can understand our sorrows. He is always interceding for us before God and we can come to Him in all boldness for comfort. And the Psalms remind us that God sees our weeping and is present with us.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (The Message) - Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.

Palms 56:8 - You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

In the context of losing a loved one, here is an article from TCW on the passage in John 11 where Jesus weeps before raising Lazarus. Now, Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, so why did He weep? Here is the explanation given in the article and I think it speaks to the fact that God weeps with us when we are suffering.

“He felt their despair and the overwhelming loneliness of losing a loved one. He knew their hearts were breaking, so his heart broke too. This is how much God loves us.”

(Emilio Carmona) #21

@andiliuphotography, @SeanO Thank you for this thread, the sincere question and replies. I pray for you and found all the quotes encouraging.

At the risk of emphasizing some mentioned points, there are a couple of observations I find useful. Fatalism means that we are victims of a blind impersonal fate which doesn’t care for us. Is is the opposite to have a personal relationship, to appeal to a personal being, a defender, as Job pleaded in the middle of his suffering. In the words of atheist Richard Dawkins “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (…) In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” This is bottomless darkness.

I see three possible options for destiny: 1) There is no certainty; 2) There is a predetermined blind destiny; 3) There is a destiny determined by a personal being who takes us into account (that implies dialog and dynamic interaction). Option number one sounds good at first but can offer no hope, as failure and the triumph of evil cannot be discarded. Fatalism would be option number two. Option number three may sound like fatalism, but it is not if you pay attention to the whole picture. As Packer and other theologians have noted, God’s sovereignty cannot be separated from the fact that He is our loving and wise Father. So we are not in the hands of a blind merciless fate, nor a tyrant, but in the hands of a personal, good, faithful, all-powerful and omniscient Father, full of mystery but full of confidence.

The Trinity and the incarnation are key factors: Because God is relational and there is an eternal dialog between Father and Son of which He makes us participants, God listens, God empathizes, God became one of us, He can understand our struggles and suffering and has committed to link His happiness to ours for ever. Somehow, we made a difference from past Eternity and make a difference for all Eternity. To me, that is the opposite of fatalism. I love the quote of Hebrews 4: 15-16. Hope this helps.

(Andi Liu) #22

Thank you Emillo for the thoughtful analysis in the nuances of understanding destiny. This really helps me tremendously.

I love the quote Sean reminded me of that Jesus is our High Priest who is not out of touch with our reality and groanings. I have begun to accept that truth and be able to mark and notice the depth of that truth, savor and relish the passion of that truth as I inwardly digest those words spoken to me.

Thank you all for helping me.

(SeanO) #23

@andiliuphotography Praise God that you are finding peace in our Lord Jesus! May the Spirit of Christ cause that truth to produce great fruit in your heart and life through prayer and ministry.