Saturday, April 02, 2005

Are Calvinists Fatalists

Before getting to my post, I want to take a moment to thank Lee for allowing me to contribute occasional thoughts on living out the Christian life. Thanks, Lee, and may God bless you and all your efforts.

One of the reckless charges that critics frequently direct at Calvinists is that we are fatalists. “After all,” they ask, “if God has ordained all things to come to pass, why would you pray, or evangelize?” The allegation is a serious one, for if true, Calvinism is heretical. One cannot be a “fatalist” and a Christian without an amazing tolerance for cognitive dissonance. So, is the charge fair?

I suppose that in the wrong hands, Calvinistic doctrine may devolve into something like Stoicism. But true Calvinism cannot be equated with blind fatalism. Calvinists believe in a personal God who maintains absolute sovereignty and governs all things via His providence (Col. 1:16-17). By contrast, fatalists look to the impersonal force of fate. Calvinism celebrates the grand purpose of life, to glorify God and love Him forever (Rev. 4:11), while fatalism espouses meaninglessness. As a Calvinist, I set my hope in the future manifestation of God’s heavenly glory and my ultimate citizenship in His Kingdom (Phil. 3:20). Fatalists look to a future of utter nothingness.

In short, fatalism cannot be equated with Calvinism. Though Calvinists recognize God as the primary cause who works all things in accordance with His holy will (Eph. 1:11), that in no way implies that the secondary cause of human action is without significance. God works through human actions to manage His will and has made us responsible for our actions, which have real and eternally significant results.

God ordains not only the ends, but the means as well (this has practical implications for prayer and evangelism, for instance). How all this ultimately works is, of course, mysterious. But God has ordained that events will come about by our causing them. Of course, we do not know what God has planned even for the rest of this day, to say nothing of the future. But we do know that if we obey God, he will bring about good things through that obedience (Rom. 8:28).

To quote Calvin on the matter, “God is pleased to hide all future events from us, in order that we should resist them as doubtful, and not cease to oppose them with ready remedies, until they are either overcome or pass beyond all care…God’s providence does not always meet us in its naked form, but God in a sense clothes it with the means employed.”


Matt said...

I've lately thought of myself as somewhat fatalist, so this doesn't bode well for me.

Darrell said...

Matt--At different times we all struggle in different ways. I'm working through some things at the moment myself--hence I will be doing some writing about suffering.

The problem with fatalism, in part, is that God wants and desires a relationship with his creatures. A God who is a Father is by definition not mechanical in His workings.

Contine to wrestle, as did Jacob. Faith without struggle is no faith at all.

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