Against Christian Fatalism

I recently completed teaching a six-week study in my church called, “The Church and Politics.” In all our many conversations today about politics, Christians seldom ask, “What does the Bible have to say about this topic?” It shouldn’t surprise us that the Bible has much to say. In fact, everything we need to live as faithful political Christians has been revealed by our merciful God in the pages of Scripture. As a pastor, I’m bothered that so many Christians in our context are looking, not to Jesus and the prophets and apostles, but to media talking heads and partisan hacks for cues on how to think politically. Sometimes we even see attempts made to keep our faith separate from politics as if Jesus isn’t Lord over every square inch of this universe. We desperately need to seek the wisdom of our political King—the only one to whom we owe ultimate allegiance—the resurrected Christ.

Over the course of the six weeks, I asked attendees to send in any questions they had. Because of the complexity of the topic, I wanted to give people an opportunity to ask about issues I wouldn’t have time to cover. One of the questions I received expressed a common sentiment I’ve heard over the years. Here it is, reworded a bit: “What’s the point of politics if Jesus is about to return and bring this whole thing to its appointed end?” In other words, why do politics even matter?

It’s a great question. From our limited perspective, we struggle to fit the data together in a way that makes sense. If the Bible is right (and it is) that history is moving toward the return of Christ and the consummation of his kingdom, then aren’t we really just wasting our time worrying about elections and government shutdowns? What’s the point of trying to repair a hole on an inevitably sinking ship?

Ancient philosophers had a name for this sentiment—fatalism. Fatalism is the belief that, since all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable, human action is pointless. However, as much as fatalism was a valid option for toga-wearers in ancient Greece, it’s not for followers of Christ in any age.

Here are my three responses to fatalistic thinking. First and most obvious, God commands us to stay actively engaged in the processes of this world. He commands us to pray even as he assures us that history will move toward its appointed end. He even commands us even to pray politically for governing authorities so that Christians “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). We pray for just governments because God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Second, Christians must never latch onto God’s ordination of the end to keep us from participating faithfully in God’s ordained means. Yes, God is bringing about his appointed ends, but his ends work through means. He doesn’t just zap his plan into existence. He uses our prayers and our votes and our faithfulness and our love of our neighbor and our participation in our local churches to accomplish his purposes in the world. God is much bigger than we think. He allows the free actions and choices of human beings and yet still brings every one of his plans to pass.

We see this process in Scripture. After Joseph’s brothers wickedly sold him and left him for dead, God worked through Joseph to save those very brothers and preserve God’s promises to Abraham. Later in the account, Joseph even recognizes this: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Peter says something similar regarding the crucifixion of Jesus: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Did God plan it or did lawless hands decide it? The answer is yes.

Third, this question often betrays overconfidence in our ability to accurately interpret the future. We’re not very good at that, if you haven’t noticed. We look out at the evil in our world and assume God must be finished. However, how many times in history have such sentiments been expressed? What if previous generations of Christians decided to disengage from the world because they believed God was finished and there was no point? As long as this world is spinning, God isn’t finished yet. The church may be losing cultural influence where we are, but it’s right now exploding in other parts of the world. Focus on being faithful where you are. God will take care of everything else.

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