Recently I got caught between two Twitter debaters -- one a strong Calvinist, the other a strong Arminian.
The Arminian was complaining that the Calvinist believed in "Fatalism." The Calvinist replied, "No, I don't, because God is a Person." I said to the Calvinist that his answer didn't solve any problems. If the Arminian's objection is to the idea of any kind of predestination at all, then saying, "Well, the cause of predestination is a Person, not a force" is not relevant.
The Calvinist huffed back at me that it was too relevant, and that pretty much ended my one-and-only conversation with James White.
But it got me thinking about fate and free will. Sometimes my better ideas come in individual bits and pieces, then I stitch them together later. Here's what I thought...
First, if someone is worried about whether there's anything we can do to change the future, the answer is "Yes, of course we can." The reason I know that is because God Himself says many times in the Bible that if we do A, then B will result.
For example, if a nation repents of its sins, God will exchange cursing for blessing (Jeremiah 18:7-8). God created the world to work in certain predictable ways. God-given wisdom sees those connections, and, by following them, the person enjoys great benefits. God told Israel that if they repented they would live, and if they did not they would die (Ezekiel 18).
Paul said that his strategic behavior with different culture-groups made a real difference in winning them to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). Christ said that if you believe in Him, then you will receive everlasting life (John 11:25-26). Only "hyper-Calvinists" deny that God sets conditions that need to be met.
Second, what if someone wants to know if human beings can thwart God? The answer, obviously, is "No."
Our God is in heaven, and He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). No one can say to Him, "What are you doing?" or stop His hand (Nebuchadnezzar learned this lesson, and talked about it in Daniel 4:35). Human beings have an ungodly itch to believe ourselves autonomous.
Even when people successfully sin, it's because God lets them. Abimelech would have slept with Sarah, but God by some unstated means prevented him from committing that sin (Genesis 20:6). Even God's permissions have purpose, and whenever God wants to stop something, He can.
There is nothing that human beings can do to stop God, if God decides He wants something to happen. At this point the issue becomes what is it that God wants, and has He limited Himself in any way?
Third, does God ever cause people to sin? Again, the obvious answer is "No."
There is some confusion here revolving around the word "cause." Hyper-Calvinism expands the word "cause" to include even the necessary conditions that make a sin possible. For example, a criminal needs to be conscious, able to think, and able to grip a gun, in order to commit a robbery. He is able to do all those things by God's sustaining of nature.
But God creating the natural conditions in which a sin happens -- in other words, the fact that bricks don't turn into rubber when thrown, and bullets don't turn into marshmallows when fired -- is not God causing the sin.
God appointed Pontius Pilate to be procurator of Judea during the time of Jesus' triumphal entry, Herod to rule central Israel, the Romans to control the government, and a wild mob of foolish Jews to be in Jerusalem. In that way God preordained that they would all be the ones to crucify Christ (Acts 4:27-28).
But God did not cause Herod, Pilate, the Romans, or the mob to be evil and foolish. They already were those things, and, in that condition, God used them.
Similarly, God did not cause David to sin by taking a census. God ordained that Satan test David in the matter (1 Chronicles 21:1), because the Lord was angry at Israel over some sin (2 Samuel 24:1).
God had a higher purpose behind letting Satan test David, but God did not cause David to give in. The fault was entirely David's; but God then used David's failure to humble David, as well as to accomplish something else He wanted to do.
Fourth, if someone asks, Is anything in the universe free from causation?, then clearly the answer is no. To be free from causation would mean we were God. For the Christian, the issue then becomes whether people being made in the image of God has left them with any measure of choice self-causation, such as that which God Himself has.
Maybe someone means to ask if we have the freedom of an arbitrary will. This seems like a meaningless question. An arbitrary will (in other words, a will that just spins around and around like a wind-sock and points in various directions for no compelling reasons) isn't really making choices, any more than a pinball in a pinball machine is making choices. God has a free will, and yet His choices are controlled by His eternal knowledge, wisdom, love, and righteousness.
Lastly, someone might simply object to the idea of predetermination or foreordination at all. Not that they are debating what they mean, but just hate the idea of predetermination altogether. Sorry, but simply throwing the idea of predetermination into the trash-bucket isn't a Biblical option.
I read an example of this mind-set in a Christian professor's testimony about the unexpected death of his daughter from an undiagnosed illness. He said that God and God's will had nothing to do with his daughter's death. I'm sorry that his daughter died, but that idea doesn't really make sense. God is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, which means God knew that his daughter was ill, and God could have prevented it, and chose not to.
I know that understanding creates all kinds of emotional stress and spiritual questions, but it's better to ask those questions than to convince ourselves that God was a by-stander because we don't want to be angry at Him.
So, does the Bible teach fatalism? No, it does not. It teaches that the one eternal God has an eternal, infallible plan, and God's plan cannot be thwarted by demons or men.
Woven throughout the plan are innumerable human, angelic, and demonic decisions. God's ability to weave all the threads of free choice into one single tapestry that looks exactly how He wants it to look is infinite. We have the ability to know that an eternal plan exists (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Our responsibility is to deal with what lies before us, and not lose ourselves in the labyrinth of unmoored, metaphysical speculation about matters that are too high for us (Psalm 131:1).