Accidents—Destiny or Circumstances?
AS Cristina, an attractive young model, crossed busy Nove de Julho Avenue in São Paulo, Brazil, she did not see the approaching bus. The driver desperately attempted to stop his vehicle, but it was too late. Cristina was run over and killed.
This tragic accident earned a front-page report in the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo. (July 29, 1990) Yet it was merely one of 50,000 traffic fatalities that occur each year in Brazil. And while thousands more are disabled by such accidents, others survive unscathed. Why, then, did this young girl not survive? Was she destined to die that day?
Countless people would argue that this is the case. They believe in fate, that major events, such as one’s time of death, are predetermined. This belief has given birth to such expressions as “No one can fight against destiny,” “His time has come,” or “Whatever will be will be.” Is there any truth to popular sayings like these? Are we merely pawns of fate?
Fatalism, or the concept that all events are determined in advance, prevailed among the ancient Greeks and Romans. Even today the idea remains strong in many religions. Islam, for example, holds to the words of the Koran: “No soul can ever die except by Allah’s leave and at a term appointed.” Belief in fate is also common in Christendom and has been nurtured by the doctrine of predestination, taught by John Calvin. It is, therefore, common for clerics to tell grieving relatives that a certain accident was “the will of God.”
The view that accidents are the product of fate, however, runs contrary to common sense, experience, and logic. For one thing, automobile accidents can hardly be the result of divine intervention, since a thorough investigation will usually reveal a perfectly logical cause. Furthermore, statistics clearly show that taking reasonable precautions—such as wearing a seat belt—greatly diminishes the likelihood of a fatal accident. Could any safety precautions really thwart the predetermined will of God?
Belief in fate adversely affects the believer, though. Does it not encourage foolhardy actions, such as ignoring speed limits and traffic signs or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs? More serious, belief in fatalism induces some people to blame God when an accident touches them. Feeling angry and helpless, and convinced that God is unconcerned, they may even lose faith. Well did the poet Emerson say: “The bitterest tragic element in life is the belief in a brute Fate or Destiny.”
But what does the Bible say about mishaps and accidents? Does it really teach that these are the workings of fate? In addition, what does it say about our prospects for salvation? Do we have any choice at all in the matter?
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“The bitterest tragic element in life is the belief in a brute Fate or Destiny.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson