Is God a Fatalist?
I don’t know how many times I have heard people say something like, “If everything is predestined then God must be a fatalist.”
I am not sure why this bothers me as much as it does. I understand that people probably don’t differentiate between fatalism and determinism but they are different. Allow me to define both, then we will compare the two, and look at what the Scriptures say about it.
First, let’s start with fatalism. Merriam-Webster’s definition is this: a doctrine that events are fixed in advance so that human beings are powerless to change them
With this definition there is no room for purpose. Things happen the way they are going and the only thing a person can do is shrug their shoulders and move on. Obviously, this is a simple analysis but it is accurate. Now let’s look at the definition of determinism.
Determinism is defined as “1 a: a theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws and 1 b: a belief in predestination” according to Merriam-Webster.
As you can see the definition of determinism is different from fatalism but even so there are differences within determinism.
In a naturalistic worldview determinism is that one event causes another. So, event X is the cause of Y and event Y causes Z….so on and so forth. In Christian determinism there is a difference.
Christian determinism says that God is the determiner of all things that happen in time. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith says: “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass…” (Chapter 3: Of God’s Decree).
As you may be able to see the distinction between the naturalist’s view of determinism and the Christian’s. The naturalist only gives reasons that are natural in nature while the Christian attributes what happens to God. Now we need to compare determinism with fatalism.
The main difference of these two views is that one creates room for purpose in actions and events (determinism) and the other does not (fatalism). If, in fact, God decreed what has come to pass it is God that gives events purpose. God’s purposes are what are important in determinism while fatalism simply doesn’t have reason or purpose in its sight.
Now we will move to what the Scriptures have to say about God’s decree and how that works with determinism.
Isaiah 46: 9b-10 says this, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’”
Here God makes it clear that He is going to accomplish his purposes. He declares the end from the beginning. He also declares the things of the past and the things of the future. All throughout history God has had his purposes. This is the essence of Christian determinism. To highlight this even further let’s look at a New Testament passage that deals with God’s greatest act of grace and justice and that’s the crucifixion of Jesus.
“…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27-28, ESV)
God’s hand acted through the will’s of all the people mentioned in this passage. This is called “secondary causes”. My next post will touch on this because that is a huge part of this discussion. However, let’s stay focused on the topic.
God predestined the holy servant would be killed on a cross. God acted in the predestination that He ordained. What I really want to point out is that God had a plan. This plan is what separates fatalism from determinism. So, when people say that reformed believers worship a God that is fatalist it is a misuse of the phrase. God has a reason and a purpose in all things.
That reason and purpose is something that we, as Christian’s, can take comfort in because even the most painful things that happen in our lives has meaning.