Faith, Fatalism and the Great Cop-Out
“It is not God who does not call. It is man who will not respond!” – Isobel Kuhn, missionary to China and Thailand
There’s faith and then there’s fatalism.
Faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8) whereby we trust the promises of God (Galatians 3:6) based on consideration of His nature (Luke 12:28) and abilities. (Hebrews 11:19) It enables our confidence in Him to do what we cannot, without avoiding our commission to do what He’s commanded.
So the evangelist who’s called to preach first prepares, then delivers, a message. He doesn’t sit back and “trust God” to do the talking. Instead he trusts God to bless the sermon, convicting and drawing people to Him through it. He believes in God to do what he can’t, yet obeys God by doing what he should, thereby exercising both faith and stewardship.
Fatalism is another matter. Webster defines it as “the belief that what will happen has already been decided and cannot be changed.” It can show up in the conversations of Christians who avoid their responsibilities by saying, “The Lord will take care of that.”
We Still Have Real Responsibility
Well, sure, He can. But when we apply that phrase to things we’re responsible to manage, there’s no assurance that He will.
If I neglect to eat the right foods, although the Lord could take care of my body, He probably won’t. I’ll get fat and sickly, not because God can’t take care of me, but rather, because He commissioned the stewardship of my body to me, and I failed.
God can likewise save my neighbor, but if I’m the one commissioned to share the Good News with him, should I really presume that if I don’t, God will save him anyway? If I refuse to train my children, should I figure God will shape them into responsible citizens despite my negligence? Or, for that matter, if I withdraw from the political process, am I really right in saying, “Well, whoever God wants running the country will wind up running it?”
Surely God can save my neighbor, shape my offspring, and raise up leaders without me, no argument there. But it’s foolish to count on Him fulfilling commands He gave to me. A Biblical worldview can’t be founded on presumptions that if we neglect God-given responsibilities, He’ll somehow fill the gap and cover for our sloth.
Is Everything That Happens God’s Will?
Which raises the question of whether or not everything which happens is God’s will. I don’t for a nanosecond think it is.
Much of what happens, in fact, is the outcome of man’s wrongdoing, and I think it’s a holy cop-out to say “God allowed it so it must be what He wants.” (I know, “holy” and “cop-out” can’t really go together, but when people baptize wrongdoing in spiritual terms, the phrase somehow works for me.)
God told Abram to leave his father’s country (Genesis 12:1); the man’s hesitation and subsequent delay was hardly God’s will. The failure of the first generation of Israelites to enter Canaan wasn’t God’s intent or God’s fault. (Hebrews 3:19) Saul’s appointment as King was birthed from a rejection of God’s direct leadership through Samuel (1 Samuel 8:7) so one could hardly say the man in charge was God’s first choice. And for those who say “Never mind speaking the truth about things. Just love everyone, don’t say anything, let God be God” I would point to our direct assignment to comfort (Romans 12:15) exhort (Hebrews 3:13) teach (Colossians 3:16) rebuke (2 Timothy 4:2) and build each other up (I Thessalonians 5:11), none of which we can shun under the false pretense of “letting God be God.”
Avoidance is hardly trust, and in light of that, I’m reminded that I must wait on the Lord often. I must also consider how often He’s waiting on me.
God’s Will or My Bad?
If human error or outright sin creates a problem, whether the problem is an evil person in power or an uncorrected wrong becoming a catastrophe, I’d say God neither willed nor did it. We did. And to prevent similar catastrophes in the future, we might consider a more robust approach to our responsibility, and less passivity when it comes to the work of God.
Because that’s a work largely, though not entirely, commissioned to us. Not because we’re needed – omnipotent God can’t need limited humans – but because we’re assigned.
Hasn’t that always been the case? God provided our first parents with an environment which He then commissioned them to keep up, fashion, even creatively label. (Genesis 1:27-30; 2:15-20)
Likewise, when it came time for Israel’s deliverance, God assigned a message to a man, directing him to confront authority then lead the masses. Heck, even the Red Sea wouldn’t part until Moses made his minor but necessary contribution by stretching his rod over the waters! (Exodus 14:16) And a glance at the early church’s progress recorded in Acts shows women and men speaking, exhorting, influencing, serving and aggressively following their job description, while God amazingly moved and blessed in response. (Acts 2:47)
God Works Through Us
Our Father has condescended to allow us to be part of His work and, in fact, has even commanded us to do so. He can do it without us. But generally, His choice has been to work through us, enabling us to comply with the principles and commandments He established.
That’s why more than ever I’m feeling these days a lot like Saul of Tarsus, knocked off his horse and vulnerable, then asking one of the first questions that should come out of our mouths daily: “Lord, what would you have me to do?” (Acts 22:10)