CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Against Christian Fatalism

May 6, 2016

There are many vital Christian doctrines which are so grand and so majestic that entire libraries are filled with large tomes discussing them, and even all that is not fully sufficient to do these themes justice. Thus it may be rather foolhardy to try in a short article to even introduce some of these great biblical truths.

But let me try anyway, and explain why I am doing it. One great theme is the sovereignty of God, and of course all the related biblical truths that go with it such as human responsibility, satanic activity, and so on. Oceans of ink have been spilled on these topics, so I have to insist here that this is just a very brief look at a few small aspects of this.

Indeed, such issues have been discussed and debated for centuries, and it certainly is not my intention to start a theological WWIII here. I am simply trying to focus on one small aspect of this, and relate it to some contemporary political discussion.

So, do I believe God is sovereign and in control? Of course I do. I also believe the biblical record makes it quite clear that human beings are responsible for their actions, and that a nefarious personal evil known as Satan exists. So all three realities must be considered when we are having these sorts of discussions.

fatalism 2Is God ultimately triumphant, overcoming obstacles and resistance from both men and devils? Yes of course. But all that I want to say here is that sometimes Christians can be far too glib or far too superficial when they throw around phrases like ‘God is in control.’

Of course he is, but that alone amounts to little more than a cliché or a bumper sticker one-liner. The phrase must be teased out much further and more carefully. And my context here is the current US election in general, and the recent suspension of campaigning by Cruz in particular.

In the past few days I have heard countless Christians throwing out the phrase ‘God is in control’ concerning this. Now by itself this thought may be well and good. But far too often the phrase is explicitly or implicitly attached to other phrases, such as:

‘God is in control, so we must just accept things as they are.’
‘God is in control, so Trump must be God’s choice.’
‘God is in control, so we need not worry about politics.’
‘God is in control, so this was meant to happen.’
‘God is in control should we should not worry about any of this.’
‘God is in control, so obviously Cruz was not meant to be POTUS.’

Now this is where I get a bit edgy. As I often say, I am not a prophet and I have no direct Wi-Fi link to God on particular issues of the day. All I have are the specific and general truths of Scripture to guide me as I seek to understand current events.

Claiming Cruz was simply not ‘God’s anointed one’ as I heard one pastor actually say scares me big time. Simply because someone does or does not win a nomination or an election does not necessarily mean they are or are not God’s anointed one. Especially if by that we mean we must fully accept it and do nothing to thwart it.

I do not accept that Hitler was God’s anointed one – at least in that sense. He was fully evil, and it was fully Christian and biblical to seek to stop such evil and defend the innocent. Yes God does raise up and take down leaders, but that does not mean Christians should be fatalists.

The idea that every single thing is fully God’s absolute will and thus we should oppose nothing and do nothing is not a good way of understanding such matters. Indeed theologians speak of various types of God’s will – his decretive will, permissive will, etc. – and we need to be a bit nuanced here.

Simply one passage alone makes it clear that we need to be a bit more careful when we speak about God’s will being done. Yes on the one hand he does perform all that he seeks to do, but on the other hand, God certainly does not approve of all that happens.

The passage is this, spoken by Jesus in Matthew 6:9-10:  “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’.” Again, without intending to get into a big debate about this text either, it does suggest that we are to pray that God’s will be done, implying it is not always being done.

We work and pray toward the end of seeing his will be done. Thus Christians are not fatalists like Muslims are. They believe everything that happens is fully the will of Allah, with nothing to be questioned, resisted, opposed or gainsaid. Islam is quite fatalistic in this sense.

Of course some versions of Christian thinking can be quite fatalistic as well, such as hyper-Calvinism. This goes beyond even what Calvin taught, and can go to unhelpful and unbiblical extremes. As but one example, Gordon Clark said in his 1961 volume Religion, Reason and Revelation, “I wish very frankly and very pointedly to assert that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it was the will of God that he should do so.”

Once again, I am not interested in a major war between Arminians, Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists, so please cut me some slack here. Those debates are far too big to enter into here without some major lengthy articles offering some introductory background material to it all first.

The point I am making here is this: many of the Christians commenting on the political scene in the US – and/or on so many other issues – can be a bit simplistic and glib in throwing out the ‘God is in charge’ line and may not have thought it through as carefully as they might.

So getting back to the Republican race, I do not believe in fatalism, and I fully believe Christians can still work and pray to see godly outcomes. In one sense nothing is inevitable here. When God’s people repent and seek God’s face, God can intervene and radically turn situations around.

I am not therefore going to sit on my hands and say, ‘Oh well, God wants so and so as his choice for POTUS, and does not want so and so’. This issue may in part be determined by how American Christians act. If deep repentance and revival occurs, an outcome might arise different to one if such things were not done.

What I am saying in all this is we must guard against unnecessary and unbiblical fatalism. We do not just give up and sing Que Sera, Sera (whatever will be will be). When evil is upon us, such as the evil of slavery for example, the Christian response is not to glibly say ‘God is in control’ and go back to sleep, but to fight against it, knowing it does not reflect the perfect will of God. Consider Wilberforce as an example.

Just accepting the rise of Hitler and the Nazis was not a biblical response either. Resisting his tyranny and unjust aggression was. So a fatalistic and white flag approach is not how we should proceed here. And related to all this is the oft heard remarks about some candidate being God’s anointed one, just like he used pagan rulers in the Old Testament.

As I keep saying, of course God can use anyone, even Balaam’s ass. But that is not the issue. It makes all the difference in the world HOW God uses someone. He can use the pagan Assyrians to judge Israel, or the pagan Cyrus to allow Israel to return home and build the temple.

One is an instrument of God’s judgment, while one is an instrument of God’s grace. Sure Trump can and will be used by God, but in my mind, as a tool of judgment, not mercy. So to carelessly claim Trump or someone like him is some Cyrus is really not helpful here. It again can lead to unnecessary pietism and surrender.

And holding to a robust view of God’s sovereignty does not mean we become passive slaves as well wherein we care nothing about anything, because ‘it is all God’s will’ anyway. When Cruz stepped down for example I did not just say, ‘oh well, that’s the way it goes’.

It grieved me deeply, as it did millions of other concerned Americas. A devil’s choice between Trump and Clinton should please no one, and those who love America should grieve at how far she has fallen that it has had to come to this sorry place.

Just as the remaining Israelites rightly grieved mightily for the fall of Jerusalem and the captivity into Babylon, so should we over what we see happening in the West. We should not be glib about it or super-spiritual. It should pain us to see evil triumph and good vanish. It should bother us to see wickedness coming in like a flood and righteousness fast disappearing.

And as I have said so often as well, whenever I am on my face before God praying about all this, asking him what is going on, all I keep getting is the need to pray for God’s will to be done, while working and praying like mad for what seems to be right.

Thus I will keep working and praying for genuine constitutional conservatives to help deliver America somewhat from so many of her ills. Such persons are not the messiah and will not make America great again. But they may buy us some time, and allow for some more much needed mercy from God.

But I also accept that the likes of Obama, Clinton and Trump are manifest tokens of God’s great displeasure and his just judgment on a wicked and immoral America. Again, that does not lead me to fatalism or despair, it simply means I need to draw more closely to God than ever before, as I keep praying that if mercy might still be coming, that it comes upon this once great nation.

If it is not to be, I am good with that as well. But hopefully you get my point: yes, God is ultimately in control, and he is not an absentee landlord here. He is fully involved in the affairs of men, and of nations. But he has also mandated that we do our bit a well, to work for that which is right, and oppose that which is evil. Part of the way he accomplishes his will is through his people.

Yes at the end of the day his will most certainly will be done, but in the meantime we all have a job to do. The plea for his people as found in 2 Chronicles 7:14 is still fully applicable, and is not an invitation to despair, fatalism or surrender. It is a call to move on and press on with God, as we seek to see his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

[1882 words]

9 Responses to Against Christian Fatalism

  • I can’t believe what’s happening in the US Presidential Primaries!

    Prayer and miracles are most definitely needed.

  • Dear Bill

    Thank you for this, rather like the EU over here in the UK we, who are seeking to return to a Nation State rather than the Godless European Empire, are being completely out gunned and out spent and out manipulated by the EU/Government/Banks and Corporations/Complicit Media. It is really depressing and many, many people are so blinded by the Devil’s propaganda and their own laziness and corrupt desires that they don’t care and are ready to choose ‘slavery’ rather than ‘freedom’. This is of course because freedom under God comes at a price and the price is submission to God’s commands, which they will not do !

    I am very grateful for your thoughts, particularly “whenever I am on my face before God praying about all this, asking him what is going on, all I keep getting is the need to pray for God’s will to be done, while working and praying like mad for what seems to be right.”

    My own understanding is that the generations since at least the mid 19th century have simply turned away from God and have gone their ‘own [demonic] way’. In France of course it was much earlier and Germany did this spectacularly in the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries. The consequences were inevitable, the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. We are reaping big time our forefathers apostasy.

    I am sure the pattern is much the same in the US, money instead of God became THE GOD. With money of course comes power and pride, and power and pride are highly addictive but they take you very swiftly to hell I believe.

    So what now ? I see such judgement already here in the UK. Despite the ardent prayers and work of believers, homosexual marriage was railroaded in three years ago here in the UK, since when, it has now become no longer acceptable to be a Christian in ‘polite’ company. This change was of course mandated by the EU establishment but that fact never really came out in the arguments. With the Referendum debate going on now people are looking more closely at how the EU really works and it is EVIL, based upon deception and lies and impoverishment of all but the super rich.

    We here in Europe are indeed being raped, just like the beguiled Europa on the bull, the myth on which the name of Europe is formed. I guess the same will now be true for America. Heaven help us and I guess there is more to do than ever there was. Praise God.

  • I guess I feel in a season of lamentations. But we can only do what God gives us to do and we should not take responsibility for the outcomes, that is His job. It would appear that His will at present is to shake the nations. Most people are blind to it of course but because we have read the book we have a much clearer understanding of what is coming and it is not going to be pretty. Maybe it is only my flesh that is feeling angry and depressed ? We are told to rejoice greatly when persecuted for righteousness sake. Perhaps I am just not that keen !

  • Hi Bill. I so agree with your comments about the need to grieve for those of us who care about the destruction we see unfurling before us….God is so rich in mercy and there is always a chance that if we will only turn back to Him and GRIEVE for our sin and all that we see around us, that God will respond. He is not a cold and lifeless idol! From Joel 2:13 And rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil. 14Who knows whether He will not turn and relent And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God? 15Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly

  • I am reminded about what St Paul said about the gospel being the power of God to save. St Paul was given the power of God to save – not by that is meant that he be saved but that through him others be saved by the power given to him. The power of course is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians is relevant here also. Jesus told us that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. This power replaces cowardice with courage as Nicodemus discovered. We need to be conscious of the power we have been given and give life to it. Great article Bill. History shows that those inspired by Satan do not last and that Christ truly is with us – now and to the end of time.

  • Oh well said Bill! No-one sits around and watches their house burn down. They pray and then call the fire brigade!

    We are not to sit under a tree and drink our pina coladas, whilst the good Lord takes out the Canaanites for us. We actually have to do something. We ARE the cavalry. We are his hands and feet.

    Naomi, let me encourage you. It is a holy thing to grieve and lament over the detestable practices that are done in the land. But it is not to paralyse us into inaction.

  • Yes Bill, God is in control! And that means I, and we, and all of us had better be with Him or we will be on the other side. Else what does “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” with “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever!” mean? Lord, have mercy! Jesus says a holy God will lead us into what will destroy us if we reject His counsel, and deliver us to the evil of our own foolish hearts. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child; the ROD OF CORRECTION! will put it far from him” Isaiah says: “Your leaders are children, women rule over you.” That is an appropriate summary of the West in our declension from the God of our Lord, Jesus, the Christ. If we can repent as His present day ecclesia Joel 2:14 is our hope in Christ. Thanks again.

  • Right again Bill. A huge topic but the people of Nineveh were smart enough to repent and were saved from Jonah’s prophesied destruction. It looks like we are either fast approaching or are already in the first stages of the seven plagues of Revelation. Can people wake up and repent in time? When John Lennon sang “Imagine” he got one thing right; the world needs to decide on one religion, he just picked the wrong one. Atheist, humanist religious belief has been tried and failed repeatedly. We now live in a world where the disparity between the rich and poor in the West is increasing and for the first time in US history we have less than fifty percent of people in the middle classes (so much for the common wealth.) People are increasingly insecure about their jobs and businesses and are increasingly willing to comply with wrongdoing to keep their job or business or make money. Family breakdown and insecurity is at a high never seen before in modern history. Health costs are ballooning out of control and now make up the biggest part of government budgets (and this is only part of the healthcare costs) and worldwide previously Christian countries are going into debt and even into bankruptcy. Yes many things are continuing similarly to before but this is more to do with the basic robustness of the institutions and infrastructure set up by Christian culture, as you would expect from something based on the rock of truth. We have Christian culture to thank for Western democracy, legal systems that, at least, have the potential to give justice, property rights, schools and universities, public hospitals etc. and of course, basic understanding of morality but as we lose this people should now be able to see that there are consequences from basing things on lies and fantasies. Just as with a house with termites or a rusted bridge or one with “concrete cancer” the structure does not fall immediately but the signs do become visible, to those who look, usually well before the structure collapses. The question is will people succumb to the great deception that says that immorality is just as valid as morality, that being “progressive” means moving us to a position with less understanding of right and wrong than even the pre-Christian Roman Empire had, that being “politically correct” means moving us to tyranny and anything but true correctness etc. etc. etc. It is so obvious to us but people in the world are so blind they think that homosexual relationships are equal to marriage when the truth is they are completely opposite things. This is the basic nature of the occult culture we have created spurned on by demonic lies. As the light is shone on these things it will become increasingly obvious just how absurd these notions are but just as with Jonah, perhaps we need a little motivation.

  • Emotions; when my experience leaves me feeling angry, anxious or depressed, these emotional signposts are there to alert me. When God’s goals are blocked, I am angry. When the Way seems uncertain, I feel anxious. When the stupidity of those in authority is overwhelming I become depressed because the heart of depression is hopelessness.

    And I do feel hopelessness not only for myself but for my family and particularly for my children. This is from the blindness, dereliction of duty and sheer contempt and selfishness of those who in authority who are supposed to protect us from danger both within and without and who are completely failing to do so.

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