Should Fate Rule Your Life?
ON THE list, the only person who did not believe in fatalism was Jesus Christ. What was his view?
The first-century biographical accounts about Jesus (the Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) point up his belief that individuals can influence their future, simply meaning what happens to them.
For instance, Jesus said that God will “give good things to those asking him” and that the person who “has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.” Similarly, when Jerusalem’s inhabitants ignored the warnings that would have saved their lives, Jesus did not blame their reaction on fate. Instead, he said: “You people did not want it.”—Matthew 7:7-11; 23:37, 38; 24:13.
We can also discern Jesus’ outlook by what he noted concerning a deadly accident that took place in Jerusalem, saying: “Those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, thereby killing them, do you imagine that they were proved greater debtors than all other men inhabiting Jerusalem? No, indeed, I tell you.” (Luke 13:4, 5) Note that Jesus did not ascribe the death of those 18 men to fate, nor did he say they died because of their being more wicked than others. Rather, unlike the Pharisees of his day who tried to harmonize fatalism with belief in man’s free will, Jesus taught that man can influence his individual future.
Jesus’ apostles likewise taught that salvation is an option attainable to all. The apostle Paul wrote: “You have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation.” And the apostle Peter said: “As newborn infants, form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word, that through it you may grow to salvation.” (2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:2; see also Acts 10:34, 35; 17:26, 27.) Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics points out that second- and third-century writers, such as Justin, Origen, and Irenaeus, ‘knew nothing of unconditional predestination; they taught free will.’
But if so many, including many Jews around them, believed in forms of fatalism, why did Jesus and the early Christians not believe that man’s fate is fixed? One reason is that the idea is fraught with problems. To name two: Fatalism runs counter to Jehovah God’s qualities; it is refuted by established facts. Furthermore, it can endanger your present and future life. A closer look will show you how this is so.
Fatalism’s Implications and God’s Qualities
Back in the third century B.C.E., the philosopher Zeno of Citium taught his pupils in Athens to “accept Fate’s decree as in some hidden way the best.” One day, however, after Zeno learned that his slave was guilty of stealing, Zeno came face-to-face with the implications of his own philosophy. How so? When he beat the thief, the slave retorted: “But it was fated that I should steal.”
Zeno’s slave had a point. If you believe that each person’s life pattern is determined beforehand, then blaming a man for becoming a thief is like blaming an orange seed for becoming an orange tree. After all, both the man and the seed merely develop according to program. What, though, is the ultimate implication of such reasoning?
Well, if criminals merely follow their fate, then the one who fixed their lot is responsible for their actions. Who would that be? According to fatalists, God himself. Taking this reasoning a giant step further, God must then be the First Cause of all wickedness, violence, and oppression ever committed by man. Do you accept that?
An article in the Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift (Dutch Journal of Theology) notes that such a fatalistic view “presupposes an image of God that, for Christians at least, is untenable.” Why? Because it contradicts the image of God presented by inspired Bible writers. Note, for instance, these quotes from the inspired book of Psalms: “You are not a God taking delight in wickedness.” “Anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates.” “From oppression and from violence he [God’s designated Messianic King] will redeem their soul.” (Psalm 5:4; 11:5; 72:14) Clearly, fatalism’s implications and God’s qualities collide head-on.
Fatalism and Facts
But what about natural disasters? Are they not fated to occur and therefore impossible to avert?
What do the facts establish? Note the findings of a study on the cause of natural disasters, as reported by the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad: “So far, earthquakes, floods, landslides, and cyclones . . . were always considered freaks of nature. However, closer consideration shows that drastic human interference with nature has seriously affected the environment’s ability to defend itself against calamities. As a result, natural disasters claim more lives than ever before.”—Italics ours.
The floods in Bangladesh mentioned in the previous article are a case in point. Scientists now say that “the destruction of vast forest areas of Nepal, Northern India, and Bangladesh has been a major factor in the floods that have plagued Bangladesh in recent years.” (Voice magazine) Another report says that deforestation has increased the rate of flooding in Bangladesh from one flood every 50 years to one every 4 years. Similar acts of human interference in other parts of the world have led to equally disastrous results—droughts, forest fires, and landslides. Yes, human acts—not mysterious fate—often cause or aggravate natural disasters.
That being so, human acts should also do the opposite: minimize calamities. Is that the case? Indeed. Consider these facts: UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) reports that for years hundreds of children in the interior of Bangladesh became blind. Was this caused by unchangeable fate? Not at all. After UNICEF workers convinced mothers there to feed their family not only rice but also fruits and vegetables, the eye disease began losing its grip. By now, this change of diet has saved hundreds of children in Bangladesh from blindness.
Similarly, people who do not smoke live, on an average, from three to four years longer than smokers. Automobile passengers who wear seat belts suffer fewer deadly accidents than those who do not. Obviously, your own actions—not fate—influence your life.
Fatalism’s Fatal Consequences
As mentioned, fatalism can also cut short your life. How? In discussing “examples of fatalism of a more grisly sort,” The Encyclopedia of Religion states: “From World War II we know of suicidal Japanese torpedo attacks and of suicides in SS (Schutzstaffel) quarters during Hitler’s regime in response to a notion of destiny (Schicksal) supposedly far beyond the value of individual human lives.” And more recently, notes the same source, “religiously inspired suicidal attacks on targets conceived as threats to Islam . . . became an almost regular feature in newspaper reports on the Near East.” Thousands of young soldiers, say such reports, walked into battle convinced that “if it is not written that one is to die, he will suffer no harm.”
Yet, even respected Muslim teachers object to such reckless behavior. For instance, one caliph said: “He who is in the fire should resign himself to the will of God; but he who is not yet in the fire need not throw himself into it.” Sadly, masses of soldiers have not acted in accord with the caliph’s advice. During nearly eight years of war, Iran suffered an estimated 400,000 deaths—more battle deaths than the United States had during World War II! Clearly, fatalism can shorten your life. It may even endanger your future life. How?
Since a fatalist believes that the future is as inevitable and fixed as the past, he may easily hatch a perilous character trait. Which trait? The Encyclopedia of Theology answers: “The individual . . . feels helpless, an insignificant, expendable factor in social processes which seem to be inescapable. This induces a passivity which gratefully clutches at the superstitious explanation that everything depends on an enigmatic but sovereign fate.”
What makes passivity so dangerous? It often leads to a stultifying attitude of defeat. This may hinder the fatalist from taking any initiative or even from reacting to God’s marvelous invitation: “Hey there, all you thirsty ones! Come to the water . . . Incline your ear and come to me. Listen, and your soul will keep alive.” (Isaiah 55:1-3) If belief in fate underlies a failure to “come” forward and to “listen,” it will result in missing out on the opportunity to “keep alive” forever in the coming Paradise restored on earth. What a costly price to pay!
So where do you stand? If you grew up in a community where fatalistic ideas form the basis of people’s thinking, you may have accepted the belief without question. Yet, the objections discussed in this article may have helped you to see that to a large extent your present and future life is shaped by your own actions.
As you have seen, reason, facts, and, above all, the Holy Scriptures show that you must not succumb to an attitude of fatal defeat. Instead, as Jesus urged: “Agonize . . . to enter through the strait door.” (Luke 13:24, The Emphatic Diaglott, interlinear reading) What did he mean? Explains one Bible commentator: “The word [agonize] is taken from the Grecian games. In their races . . . they strove, or agonized, or put forth all their powers to gain the victory.” Instead of your bowing to defeat in life, Jesus was urging that you strive for nothing less than victory!
Hence, shake off any fate-inspired passivity. Enter the race for life as God’s Word urges, and do not let fatalism slow you down. (See 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.) Speed up the pace by swiftly responding to the inspired invitation: “Choose life in order that you may keep alive, you and your offspring.” How can you make that choice? “By loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice and by sticking to him.” Doing so will lead to victory, for Jehovah will prove to be “your life and the length of your days.”—Deuteronomy 30:19, 20.
[Picture on page 7]
Moses did not preach fate but urged: “Choose life in order that you may keep alive.”