Are Our Lives Predestined?
THE scene is a thatched hut in the peaceful mountains of Lesotho, southern Africa. As the sun sets, something happens to disturb the evening calm. The householder and his wife have consumed too much beer. An argument develops, leading to a fight. He strikes her on the head with a heavy instrument. She falls unconscious and is taken for dead. Later that evening relatives arrive to commence the customary wake for the dead. At about 4:00 a.m. they are surprised to see the woman gain consciousness.
“I traveled through beautiful green pastures to the land of our ancestors,” she tells them. “There I met an old man who told me that my time had not yet come. He said that I must return home and wait until they fetch me.”
What this woman related was just a dream. It illustrates a common belief about death—“everyone has a fixed time.” In addition, many believe that each one’s final destiny is fixed, whether that be heaven or damnation.
Where did this belief originate? Does it have a good effect on people? Should you believe it too?
The Origin and Development of Predestination
In ancient times people believed that their lives could be guided by the stars. This practice, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, was “first categorized and cataloged in ancient Mesopotamia.” In time “Babylonian diviners began—for the purpose of predicting the course of an individual’s life—to utilize some planetary omens.” (Italics ours) Thus the basis for a later belief was laid.
From Babylon such thinking spread and developed in other parts of the earth. It had penetrated Jewish religious thought before the advent of Christianity. The first-century historian Josephus tells us that the Pharisees and Sadducees differed over it. “The Pharisees,” he wrote, “ . . . ascribe everything to Fate or to God.” According to the Muslim Koran: “No soul can ever die except by Allah’s leave and at a term appointed.”—Surah 3:145, Mohammed Pickthall’s translation.
The doctrine of predestination (or, foreordination) was introduced to Christendom by the Roman Catholic “saint” Augustine in the fifth century. It is sometimes called the doctrine of Augustine. The Catholic Church still holds to it, yet not to the extent that Augustine taught. The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, page 713, states: “All things are foreknown and foreordained by God.”—See also page 714 under the heading “Predestination in Catholic Theology.”
The 16th-century Protestant reformer John Calvin was more explicit, like Augustine. “Predestination,” Calvin defined as “the eternal decree of God, by which he has determined in himself what he would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others.” According to him, God fixed every individual’s destiny, including yours, “before the first man was created.”
Its Widespread Effect on People
Calvin’s influence became very widespread. Explaining this, the book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism says: “Calvinism was the faith over which the great political and cultural struggles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were fought in the most highly developed countries, the Netherlands, England, and France. . . . the doctrine of predestination was considered its most characteristic dogma. . . . It served as a rallying-point to countless heroes of the Church militant, and in both the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries it . . . formed the battlecry of great new awakenings.”—Italics ours.
This doctrine, “most characteristic” of Calvinism, affected people in different ways. Commenting on this, the Encyclopædia Britannica says: “It minimized man’s freedom, and so produced either an over-confidence in those who believed themselves elect, or despair in those who could not reach the assurance.” Sometimes such “over-confidence” spread through whole communities, who imagined themselves to be a “chosen race.” It was used to justify the suppression of other races considered primitive.
Predestination promotes a fatalistic view toward life, something very common among South Africans, both black and white. This is understandable in view of the strong Calvinistic influence there, especially from the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian Churches. In the event of death, Xhosas in that country sometimes say: “A man is entitled to slaughter what belongs to him.” This implies that God causes deaths, just as a man has the right to slaughter his own sheep.
Belief in predestination can cause a person to lose faith in God. When disaster or serious illness strikes, such a one may blame God, turning against him. This belief can also lead to foolhardiness. Some believe that no matter what risks they take, their life will only end at ‘God’s fixed time.’ For example, this has led to reckless driving, with resultant loss of life, in some north African countries.
What Does the Bible Teach?
It teaches that God created man in his ‘image and likeness.’ (Genesis 1:26) Such “likeness” refers to qualities, not physical appearance. For instance, just as the Creator is free to do as he chooses, he has created man with a free will. Out of regard for this, the Creator does not fix or foreordain the path each individual will take. Does this conflict with God’s ability to see into the future? No! To illustrate: A radio enables one to hear world news in the home, but it must first be switched on and the right station selected at the correct time. Likewise with the Creator’s power of foreknowledge; he makes discretionary and selective use of it, showing regard for the free will he gave to man.
The Bible teaches that coincidences and disasters are often a matter of “time and unforeseen occurrence.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12) For example, consider a busy traffic intersection. An “unforeseen occurrence,” such as failing brakes, at the wrong “time” could cause a fatal accident. The Bible does not teach that God is responsible for or foreordains such things. Realizing their personal responsibility, Christians will endeavor to drive with “soundness of mind,” seeing to it that their vehicles are kept in a roadworthy condition.—2 Timothy 1:7.
As to mankind’s final destiny, the Bible teaches that there are three possibilities. First, from among those who have accepted God’s provision for salvation, he has “called” a certain class. These ones have been destined to life in heaven and the number is fixed—144,000. Under God’s appointed King, Jesus Christ, they will form a heavenly government for the blessing of mankind. (Romans 8:29, 30; Revelation 14:1-3; 20:1-4) Although this class and its number have been “foreordained,” this is not so respecting the individuals making it up. It is possible that an individual might fail in living up to the heavenly calling, requiring a replacement. Hence the warning: “Keep on holding fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”—Revelation 3:11; see also Matthew 24:13; Philippians 3:12, 13; 2 Peter 1:10; Jude 3-5.
The other two possibilities are for people to live forever on this earth or finally to lose life altogether. In both cases neither the number nor the individuals have been fixed. The choice depends on man. As the Creator says: “Here I am putting before you people the way of life and the way of death.” If a person is on the “way of death,” it is not too late to change. God’s own invitation is: “Turn back, turn back from your bad ways, for why is it that you should die?” Also, if a person has chosen “the way of life,” he must be careful to stay on it. Jehovah’s Witnesses take to heart God’s warning: “When I say to the righteous one: ‘You will positively keep living,’ and he himself actually trusts in his own righteousness and does injustice, all his own righteous acts will not be remembered, but for his injustice that he has done—for this he will die.”—Jeremiah 21:8; Ezekiel 33:11, 13.
A wonderful future awaits those who choose and stay on “the way of life.” Either by a resurrection from the dead or by surviving into God’s New Order, they have the prospect of eternal life. (Psalm 37:10, 11, 29; John 11:25) “The gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:23) What is involved in accepting that priceless “gift”? The distributors of this magazine would be happy to discuss these matters with you in your home, without cost or obligation on your part.
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The Creator has given man a free will and so does not fix or foreordain the path each individual will take
THE WAY OF DEATH
THE WAY OF LIFE