Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Faith vs. Fatalism

I was a member of a camp team for Mid-America Christian University back in the summer of 1991. We were serving in one Church of God (Anderson) youth camp when an interesting thing happened. During the week the camp received an urgent prayer request about a lady, apparently well known in the state we were visiting for the week, was gravely ill. The camp took to serious prayer for her divine healing.

After the service I was back in my cabin along with the boys I was counselor to during the camp. One camper didn't understand all of the fuss over the lady's sickness. In his teenage theology God was going to heal her or he wasn't. There wasn't any need to get worked up about it. It was all up to God one way or the other.


I think it's rather easy to see this young man's mistake. The apostle Paul didn't believe in such indifference when it came to prayer. He wanted to see the Thessalonians again and he exerted much energy in prayer:
as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? (1 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV)
Paul didn't say, "Look, either it's God's will that I visit you or it's not. I'll just breathe a quick prayer and be done with it. I'm sure not going to lose any sleep over it." No, he felt the need to keep praying although he knew God never forgets his prayers.

There is another kind of fatalism. This variety so believes in God's sovereignty (which, in general, is good) that it refuses to believe that God's purposes can be thwarted whatsoever (which, in general, is bad). It can be called a Standing on the Promises Fatalism, a belief that a concern prayed over in faith will unfold according to God's will, must unfold according to God's will. Here is an example:

I prayed for that job. If God wants me to have it he will overrun the will of the supervisor who does the hiring. The boss has no say in the matter—he will fall in line with God's thinking (even though he probably will think it was his idea all along). Therefore, if I get the job it was God's will I have it; if I don't then it wasn't God's will that I work there.

What is wrong with this scenario? It ignores the human factor, the reality that it may be God's will that I get the job but the supervisor may not listen to the Holy Spirit. He may hire the wrong person due to faulty logic (or nepotism, or whatever else). I may be the man for the job but not get it because the boss didn't make the right decision.

Yes, I believe that God's sovereignty wins in the long term but I believe it can be "frustrated" in the short term. Listen to God's own misgivings:
I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks; who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig's flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels; who say, "Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you." These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day. (Isaiah 65:2-5 ESV)
God's own covenant people kept rejecting him! Was this his will? Well, we see how this failure fell under the watchful eye of his sovereignty, yes, but was it his immediate desire that his people reject him? No! God's will was for their obedience but his people's will was for their paganism. Consider a New Testament example, one that came from the lips of an exasperated and heartbroken Christ:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'" (Luke 13:34-35 ESV)
Was it God's desire that Judah reject Jesus as their Messiah? No, but they did—and Jerusalem was conquered by the Roman army, a multitude of people killed and the Temple destroyed in AD 70 because of it. The human element thwarted the desire/will of God. Yes, Jesus knew they would reject him; he prophesied it. But it wasn't his will, at least not in the short term. His long term sovereignty took care of it but it wasn't his desire for his people to spurn him.

David Seamands spoke of this fatalism in his book, Putting Away Childish Things. It can mess you up if you subscribe to it. It's like saying, "I prayed for God's protection before I left on my trip so no drunk driver can swerve near my car on the road." That's a non sequitur, the logic doesn't follow. Is the converse true, that everyone who died on the interstate system due to a drunk driver died according to the will of God?

Yes, God's will will be done ultimately. But not always immediately. You have a say in the matter. So do others.