Does the Bible Teach Belief in Fate?
LIBEL! SLANDER! When a respected member of the community believes that his name or reputation has been damaged by a false report, he feels compelled to set matters straight. He may even take legal action against those responsible for the libel.
Well, fatalism is nothing less than slander against Almighty God. The theory holds that God is personally responsible for all the tragedies and mishaps that afflict mankind. If you believe in fate, you might imagine that the Universal Sovereign has compiled an agenda that reads something like the following: ‘Today, John will be injured in a car accident, Fatou will have a malaria attack, Mamadou’s house will be destroyed in a storm’! Could you really be moved to serve such a God?
‘But if God is not responsible for our misfortunes, then who is?’ ask believers in fate. Ousmane, the young man mentioned in the preceding article, wondered about this himself. But he did not have to guess or speculate to arrive at the truth. He learned that God has cleared himself of this slander by means of the teachings found in His inspired Word, the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16) Let us consider, then, what the Bible says on this subject.
Who Is to Blame?
Floods, storms, earthquakes—such catastrophes are often called acts of God. Yet the Bible does not indicate that God causes such disasters. Consider a tragedy that occurred centuries ago in the Middle East. The Bible tells us that the sole survivor of this catastrophe reported: “The very fire of God [Hebrew expression often meaning lightning] fell from the heavens and went blazing among the sheep and the attendants and eating them up.”—Job 1:16.
While this terrified man may have thought that God was accountable for the fire, the Bible shows that He was not to blame. Read Job 1:7-12 for yourself, and you will learn that the lightning was caused, not by God, but by his Adversary—Satan the Devil! Not that all mishaps are the direct work of Satan. But clearly, there is no reason to blame God.
In reality, people are often to blame when things go wrong. Failures at school, at work, or in social relations may result from a lack of effort and good training or perhaps from a lack of consideration for others. Likewise, illnesses, accidents, and deaths may be the result of negligence. Why, simply wearing a seat belt while driving greatly reduces the likelihood of one’s being killed in a car accident. A seat belt would not make any difference if unalterable “fate” were at work. Proper medical care and sanitation also dramatically reduce the number of premature deaths. Even some disasters commonly labeled “acts of God” are, in fact, acts of man—the sad legacy of man’s mismanagement of the earth.—Compare Revelation 11:18.
“Time and Unforeseen Occurrence”
True, there are many sad events for which the causes are not clearly evident. Note, though, what the Bible says at Ecclesiastes 9:11: “I returned to see under the sun that the swift do not have the race, nor the mighty ones the battle, nor do the wise also have the food, nor do the understanding ones also have the riches, nor do even those having knowledge have the favor; because time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.” There is therefore no reason to believe that the Creator is behind accidents or that victims of accidents are in some way being punished.
Jesus Christ himself argued against fatalistic reasoning. Referring to a tragedy that was well-known to his listeners, Jesus asked: “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) Jesus evidently attributed the disaster, not to God’s intervention, but to “time and unforeseen occurrence.”
The Ravages of Imperfection
What, though, about unexplained deaths and illnesses? The Bible gives this blunt description of the human condition: “In Adam all are dying.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) Death has afflicted mankind since our forefather Adam trod the path of disobedience. Just as God had warned, Adam left his offspring a legacy of death. (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12) Ultimately, then, all illnesses can be traced to our common ancestor Adam. Our inherited weaknesses also have much to do with the disappointments and failures we experience in life.—Psalm 51:5.
Consider the problem of poverty. Belief in fate has often encouraged sufferers to resign themselves to their difficult existence. ‘This is our destiny,’ they believe. The Bible shows, however, that human imperfection, not fate, is to blame. Some become poor when they ‘reap what they have sown’ through laziness or mismanagement of resources. (Galatians 6:7; Proverbs 6:10, 11) Countless millions live in poverty because they are victimized by greedy men in power. (Compare James 2:6.) “Man has dominated man to his injury,” says the Bible. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) No evidence exists for attributing all poverty to God or to fate.
Belief in Fate—Its Damaging Effects
Still another persuasive argument against belief in fate is the effect fatalism can have upon believers. Said Jesus Christ: “Every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit.” (Matthew 7:17) Let us consider one “fruit” of fatalism—the way it influences people’s sense of responsibility.
A healthy sense of personal responsibility is important. It is one of the things that motivate parents to provide for their families, workers to perform their tasks conscientiously, manufacturers to provide a quality product. Belief in fate may numb that sense. Imagine, for example, that a man’s car has a faulty steering mechanism. If he has a keen sense of responsibility, he gets it repaired out of concern for his own life and the lives of his passengers. A believer in fate, on the other hand, may ignore the risk, reasoning that a breakdown will occur only if it is ‘God’s will’!
Yes, belief in fate may easily promote carelessness, laziness, failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions, and a host of other negative traits.
A Barrier to Our Relationship With God?
Most harmful of all, belief in fate can suppress one’s sense of responsibility, or obligation, toward God. (Ecclesiastes 12:13) The psalmist urges all mankind to “taste and see that Jehovah is good.” (Psalm 34:8) God sets forth certain requirements for those who would enjoy his goodness.—Psalm 15:1-5.
One such requirement is repentance. (Acts 3:19; 17:30) That involves admitting our mistakes and making needed changes. As imperfect humans, all of us have much of which we need to repent. But if a person believes that he is a helpless victim of fate, it is difficult to feel a need to repent or to take responsibility for his errors.
Said the psalmist about God: “Your loving-kindness is better than life.” (Psalm 63:3) Yet, belief in fate has convinced millions that God is the author of their misery. Naturally, this has embittered many toward him, shutting the door to their having a truly close relationship with the Creator. After all, how could you feel love for the one whom you viewed as causing all your problems and trials? Fatalism thus erects a barrier between God and man.
Freed From the Tyranny of Fate
Young Ousmane, mentioned at the outset, was once enslaved by belief in fate. However, when Jehovah’s Witnesses helped him to evaluate his thinking in the light of the Bible, Ousmane was moved to abandon his belief in fate. The results were a profound sense of relief and a new, positive outlook on life. More important, he has come to know Jehovah as a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth.”—Exodus 34:6.
Ousmane has also come to realize that God, although not planning every detail of our lives, does have a purpose for the future.* Says 2 Peter 3:13: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have helped millions to cultivate the hope of living forever as a part of this promised “new earth.” They would like to help you too.
As you grow in accurate knowledge of the Bible, you will come to appreciate that your future does not depend upon some predetermined fate over which you have no control. The words of Moses to the ancient Israelites well apply: “I have put life and death before you, the blessing and the malediction; and you must choose life in order that you may keep alive, you and your offspring, by loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice and by sticking to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20) Yes, you have a say in your future. It is not in the hands of fate.
For a thorough discussion of God’s foreknowledge, see The Watchtower, July 15, 1984, pages 3-7.
[Pictures on page 6, 7]
These disasters were not ‘acts of God’
U.S. Coast Guard photo
UN PHOTO 186208/M. Grafman