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Confusing Divine Sovereignty with Fatalism

People often have a distorted view of God’s sovereignty, one that leads to a fatalist outlook. They think, “Well, if God has determined this to happen, then it doesn’t matter what I do.” This is not only sheer presumption; it simply isn’t true. A soldier may pray for God’s protection of his life, but that doesn’t give him a blanket endorsement for imbibing large quantities of stupidity.

He doesn’t suddenly take off his bulletproof vest and quit donning his helmet. He doesn’t stand up recklessly on top of his bunker in the midst of enemy fire. If God chooses to grant his request, it is likely never going to be in the absence of sound precautions. Christians are in a never-ending battle to consistently devote themselves to the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, such as Bible-reading, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, and stewardship of their finances. Neglecting these prescribed instruments for spiritual growth can frequently lead to unwise choices. At that point it is easy to blame God’s sovereignty for the consequences that naturally follow such decisions. Of course, God is sovereign even in our foolishness, but this is no excuse for saying, “Oh, well! God is in control!” This is like the attitude of the careless and undisciplined soldier who bleeds to death from the bullet that hit his helmetless head: “Oh, well! God determined that I should die.” Christians who believe in God’s unwavering sovereign decrees and take that as an excuse to avoid making wise, obedient choices need to understand compatibilism more than they think. Even though God is in control of our lives, we can look back and say that many of our choices were mistakes. They lacked wisdom, and we shouldn’t have made them. It is neither wise nor responsible to take God’s providential purposes for granted. Likewise, trying obsessively to figure them out is a useless exercise. Wisdom and responsibility lie in staying the course with simple faith and obedience. Our primary focus is to be concerned far more with God’s instructive will than with his sovereign will. But Christians distort God’s sovereignty into another brand of fatalism. Prolonged trials and tribulations can lead to discouragement and a hopelessness that tests our trust in God’s sovereign control. When the road that we plod along seems headed in only one dreadful direction with no possibility of changing course, it is easy to waffle. Christians can find themselves in these moments trading belief in a wise, loving, and sovereign God for a cold and impersonal fate that couldn’t care less about their plight. The disconcerting reality about this switch in one’s thinking is that it is God who has become the nebulous force of fate. This maneuver happens imperceptibly. Surely God would never allow such ongoing trials without answering our prayers for intervention or rewarding our obedience by altering our circumstances for the better! After being on this dark highway for what seems like ages, downcast believers are tempted to stop praying, obeying, and pursuing wisdom to address whatever obstacles lie in their path. It is believed that exercising these disciplines has changed nothing, and so they are abandoned in a fit of frustration and despair. The believer gives up. God is perpetually silent. The good has only lost more ground while evil and calamity prevail. In this case, a fatalist god has usurped the biblical God. We need to shake our deluded selves loose from such nightmares. In these moments, it is time to learn a lesson or two from the persistent widow in the parable that Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 18:1–8. Believers should never “lose heart” in praying (v. 1) and doing good (Gal. 6:9; 2 Thess. 3:13). Jesus calls us to persevere with our cries toward God (Luke 18:7) until we “wear [him] out” (v. 5). The question is whether the child of God has the persistent faith that will walk a hundred miles when at first he thought the journey was only one mile (v. 8). God usually brings prolonged trials to test this faith and see whether it will stand firm over the long haul (James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:6–7). Persistent prayer, faith, and obedience are the means that God uses to get us through trials and tribulations. They are part of the compatibilist plan.

(The above was taken from the book, What about Free Will?: Reconciling Our Choices with God's Sovereignty by Scott Christensen (p. 101-102) P&R Publishing)

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