Providence and Fate

The Bible seems clearly to teach that God is thoroughly in control. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without His say so, according to Matthew 10. The Bible doesn’t even shy away from making God active (though not culpable) in the midst of evil. When Babylon and Egypt were at war, the Prophet Ezekiel has the Lord calling the sword of the Babylonian king His own sword (Ez. 30:25). God’s providence over His creation is total.

The fact that God controls everything had me wondering in what way providence is different to fate. Fate is the idea that our lives have been laid out for us in a fixed pattern, but not by a benevolent force. Fate is not good or bad; it’s just the unchangeable stuff of the universe.

If fate is impersonal and morally neutral, but God is a person who names things good and evil, what changes? Well, God cares about his world, firstly, which validates our mutual care for one another, for God, and for creation. The Stoics apparently tried to suppress emotions related to unhappiness, choosing happiness regardless of the direness of circumstances. I find something to admire in that, yet, there is also something desperate and artificial about facing tragedy with a denial. When God names evil and death as enemies, it indicates that there is a deep reality to tragedy and pain, as well as to rejoicing and pleasure.  We are in a relationship with God as children to a Father; a Father who knows us and has incorporated our will into his plan. We are not leaves blown around in the impersonal wind of fate. Relationships admit pain and joy; fate does not.

God’s providence also drastically alters our outlook when ‘the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away’. If God provides us with suffering or tragedy, it is appropriate to mourn, as scripture even points out on occasion. However, God’s providence means that we do not mourn in the same way as unbelievers do. Because we are convinced that God gives us suffering for our ultimate good, and because we know that mourning belongs to this earthly country that is fleeting, but not to our home country that is forever, we can mourn with abundant hope. Our mourning is not the denial of the Stoic, or the defeat of the unbeliever, but a resolute testament to an enemy living on borrowed time.

We receive good things differently to the unbeliever too. When the Lord grants us prosperity, for example, we hold onto it with a loose hand. We are free to recognise and enjoy the blessing, if we have the capacity to do so. Yet in rejoicing, we do not enjoy the gift and forget the giver. In contrast to the rest of the world, what characterises Christian blessing is Christian thanksgiving.

We also know that prosperity is given for a purpose, and with an eternal goal. Being rich in this world means that you are automatically viewed as a successful person. A wealthy man is forgiven all but the most unbearable character flaws. Wealth buys security and opportunity. However, from an eternal perspective, being wealthy is neither success nor failure yet. What it will become depends on the one who has been gifted with it. Money can be a source of pride and evil, or it can be a tool for the Kingdom. Do we believe the lie that our money makes us important, or will we recognise that money frees us up to pursue our calling as servants?


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