If you are a fan of the Terminator film series, you will know that in the second instalment (Terminator 2: Judgment Day), one of the heroes, Sarah Connor, carves the words “No fate” into a wooden table with a large knife. The series is about cyborgs and humans coming back to the present from the future to alter the course of history and human events – for good or ill.
Connor and others do their best to save humanity and prevent judgment day, believing that what they do can make a real difference. So a sub-theme of the films is that of trying to tease out how human choices can exist in what can seem like a fatalistic universe. I mention all this because of a recent encounter I had.
A friendly and chatty delivery man (who I encountered at least once before), came around to deliver some books (yes, surprising I know). Out of the blue he mentioned his wife has been found to have cancer. Perhaps we had discussed my wife’s cancer the previous time he came.
But he seemed all rather sanguine about it. He had a ‘whatever happens, happens’ sort of attitude. He said death did not bother him: ‘we all will die exactly when we are supposed to die – it does not matter if you die at 2 or 200.’ He went on to talk about just getting along: ‘despite the differences and beliefs folks have, we should just learn to respect one another’ or words to that effect.
I said that all this works better with the help of God. But he said, then there is problem of the 2 year old dying. I said it can be, but he had to go, and to answer that properly would have taken a bit of time. But had we been able to continue that discussion, it might have gone something like this:
I would have asked him which view is preferable: the classical definition of God as a supreme being who is all wise and all loving, so if he allows a young person to die so early on, he might have a good reason for it, one that we finite creatures may not be aware of? Or his view, where stuff just happens with no rhyme nor reason?
In his view, whatever happens, happens – we must just accept it and move on. And assuming he is not a theist, (since he told me, ‘all that matters is we try to live the best life we can, since that is all there is’), if a two-year-old dies, that is it. There is no afterlife where that person will still live on.
His stance seems to be a “cheerful fatalism”. That is how one popular song has been described. In 1955 “Que Sera, Sera” (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) was written, and next year it was sung by Doris Day in the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much.
It pretty much sums up the book delivery guy and so many other folks: it IS fatalism. It is a bleak acceptance of blind fate, and it differs radically from the biblical worldview. I have even heard this presented as a theme at funerals. But the Christian must go along with Sarah Connor: we CAN make a difference and our choices DO matter. We are not bound by fate.
Other worldviews do push fatalism. Islam for example really is a fatalistic religion. Whatever happens is Allah’s will – end of story. And atheists like Dawkins have admitted that we are just here with no real purpose or meaning, and are just carried along by our genes.
But Christians reject hardcore fatalism, even Calvinists. Yes, you read that right. While there is such a thing as hyper-Calvinism, the great bulk of those in the Reformed camp clearly distance themselves from it. But all biblical believers know that we must embrace simultaneously two key truths: God is sovereign and man is responsible for his actions.
How exactly these two truths cohere will always be a mystery this side of eternity, just like other key doctrines, such as the Trinity. We believe God is not surprised or caught off-guard by world events, and he is working out his purposes, but we also believe we are not robots, and we can make moral choices that have real – and eternal – significance.
Getting back to my chat with the delivery man, if the choice is one of an impersonal universe ruled by blind fate, or one governed by a personal infinite God who loves his creation and wants the best for it, I know which one I will run with.
This guy may think his position is tenable, but if he looked at it more closely, he would see it just does not cut it. The ‘grin and bear it’ approach to life just does not get you very far. Nor does a dogged stoicism. And the ‘crap just happens so get used to it’ approach of Dawkins et. al., is not of any use either.
What we need is a God who invites us to have a relationship with him. Such a God offers us so very much. Consider just a few of the many biblical promises that the believer can rely upon:
We need a God who says he is always with us (Matthew 28:20).
We need a God who says come now let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18).
We need a God who says draw unto me and I will draw unto you (James 4:8).
We need a God who says he will take us under his wings (Psalm 91:4).
We need a God who says if we seek him we will find him (Isaiah 55:6).
We need a God who says he will gives us rest (Matthew 11:28).
We need a God who says he sees our tears (Psalm 56:8).
We need a God who says he delivers us out of our troubles (Psalm 34:17).
We need a God who says he hears our cry (2 Samuel 22:7).
We need a God who says he will never forget us (Isaiah 49:15).
We need a God who says he watches over us (Psalm 33:18).
We need a God who says he answers those who call upon him (Jeremiah 33:3).
We need a God who says his love endures forever (Psalm 100:5).
We need a God who says he resists the proud but is close to the humble (James 4:6).
We need a God who says he knew us before we were formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5).
We need a God who says he is with us and will strengthen and help us (Isaiah 41:10).
We need a God who says he will wipe away all our tears (Revelation 21;4).
We need a God who says he seeks and saves those who are lost (Luke 19:10).
We need a God who says in his presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).
We need a God who says he will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
We need a God who says he loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).
We need a God who says he is a refuge in times of trouble (Nahum 1:7).
We need a God who says he comforts us (Psalm 23:4).
We need a God who says he judges the world with righteousness (Psalm 9:8).
We need a God who says he has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:3).
We need a God who says he is perfectly trustworthy (2 Samuel 7:28).
We need a God who says he heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3).
We need a God who says nothing will separate us from his love (Romans 8:38-39).
That, and so much more, is good news indeed. Give me this God any day over a dark, cold, impersonal fatalistic universe with no hope, no care, no love, no meaning and no purpose. Forget the Doris Day song and cling to the promises of the living God.
Bill Muehlenberg teaches ethics, apologetics and theology at several Melbourne Bible Colleges. His independent blog, Culture Watch, has over 5,000 articles commenting on the major cultural, social and political issues of the day. Bill's podcast is exclusively produced for Good Sauce readers and fans.
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