“Into the experience of all there come times of keen disappointment and utter discouragement—days when sorrow is the portion, and it is hard to believe that God is still the kind benefactor of His earthborn children; days when troubles harass the soul, till death seems preferable to life. It is then that many lose their hold on God and are brought into the slavery of doubt, the bondage of unbelief. Could we at such times discern with spiritual insight the meaning of God’s providences we should see angels seeking to save us from ourselves, striving to plant our feet upon a foundation more firm than the everlasting hills, and new faith, new life, would spring into being.” E.G.White, Prophets and Kings, p. 162.
Looking at the troubles that come into the lives of Christians and the Christian response to those trials, I started to wonder about the line between faith and fatalism. What got me thinking about this was a radio preacher who was talking about King David toward the end of his reign. The story is in 2 Samuel 15 and 16. Absalom has staged a coup and has forced David to retreat from Jerusalem. As he’s moving out with his loyal soldiers the steward of Mephibosheth (Saul’s grandson, who has been being supported by David all these years) meets him with donkeys and food for the journey. That’s the only bright spot in David’s day though because he finds out from the steward that Mephibosheth is back in Jerusalem in the hopes that Saul’s kingdom will be taken away from David and restored to him. And then, David comes up to the next town, only to meet a guy named, Shimei who starts throwing rocks at David and his posse. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Shimei starts shouting curses at David:
“’Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The LORD has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!’" 2 Samuel 16:7-8
At that point, Abishai, one of King David’s men, offers to go over and lop off Shimei’s head.
“But the king said, ‘What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, “Curse David,'” who can ask, “Why do you do this?”’
“David then said to Abishai and all his officials, ‘My son, who is of my own flesh, is trying to take my life. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.’
“So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt.” 2 Samuel 16:10-13
When I first heard that, I thought, “That sounds like a man who has completely given up—who just doesn’t care anymore. And who could blame him? He had definitely reached a low point.
So how can we tell the difference between “the faith of a child” and fatalism? Have you met a person who, on the surface, seems to have that complete, unwavering faith in God’s leading, but who really has ceased to take any responsibility for his (or her) own life. No matter what happens, it was God’s will. There’s a leak in the roof or a traffic jam on the expressway, but this person is unperturbed. He’ll say, in a voice like Eeyore’s (Winnie the Pooh’s donkey friend), “Everything happens for a reason.”
Now, I know it’s not my job to decipher where another person is spiritually; that is totally God’s job, and He can have it. My concern is that I will fall into fatalism and believe that I am resting in faith. So I’ve spent some time trying to learn the difference between faith and fatalism.
In an essay called “Passivity, the Flip Side of Passion”, pastor Paul Anderson supplies a list of excellent comparisons between faith and fatalism.
“Faith has lips and legs; it makes statements and it takes steps. Fatalism keeps us from moving anywhere or doing anything-because nothing matters anyway.
"Faith directs us to a preferable future. Fatalism resigns us to an inferior present.
"Faith says ‘yes’ to the promises of God. Fatalism says ‘yes’ to whatever blows through.
"Faith lays hold on the future with confidence. Fatalism embraces the status quo with resignation.
"Faith brings the future to the present. Fatalism cannot see the future because of the present.
"Faith places us on top of our circumstances. Fatalism puts us under the circumstances.
"Faith pleases God. Fatalism offends Him.
"Faith makes obedience essential. Fatalism makes obedience (or disobedience) inconsequential.
"Faith responds to the faithfulness of God. Fatalism gives in to a god who is distant and unknowable.
"Faith overcomes in trials; fatalism accepts it condition.
"Faith looks to what can be; fatalism accepts what is.
"Faith moves mountains; fatalism means that we get moved.
"Faith believes the best. Fatalism accepts one’s fate, even if it is the worst.”
Believe it or not, fatalism is a very comfortable place to be because in that state we have no hopes, no desires, and whatever happens, happens. Another author talked about this giant, beautifully built dome that the Buddhists built, but they don’t maintain it. It’s called the stupa and is meant to decay. The Buddhists teach, “that existence is pain, and like the dome suffers pain and ruin through whatever comes against it. Ultimately, the goal is to become nothing, which is nirvana.” Fatalism could be described much the same way.
But that’s not what the Bible says in Romans 8:28-39…or anywhere else for that matter.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I don’t know what books you read growing up, but in the ones I read, conquerors were never passive. They were out there making a difference. They may not have won every battle, but they never gave up until they got to where they thought they belonged.
Satan would love for us to sit back and let life wash over us, eroding our lives, our spirits and, ultimately, our relationships with Christ, all the while believing that we’re accepting what God has chosen to give us.
“Man is allotted a part in this great struggle for everlasting life; he must respond to the working of the Holy Spirit. It will require a struggle to break through the powers of darkness, but the Spirit that works in him can and will accomplish this. But man is no passive instrument to be saved in indolence. He is called upon to strain every muscle in the struggle for immortality, yet it is God that supplies the efficiency.” E.G.White, Our High Calling (1961), page 91.
As it turns out, David hadn’t given up at all. He had at least three loyal spies in Jerusalem making sure he knew what Absalom was up to. He had just learned over the years he spent commanding armies, that some battles are more important than others. The battle for his throne was important; some guy throwing rocks and dirt at him was not. Another thing that David had learned was that even though sometimes standing on the sidelines is a whole lot harder than being in the battle (just watch a basketball coach sometime), it’s important to know when to stand and when to fight. He’d learned to let God tell him which was which.
Are you fighting any battles right now? Are they the right ones or are you worried about satan throwing rocks and insults? Are you fighting God and fighting your way closer to Him?
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’" Jeremiah 29:11-14
How can you argue with that? He promises to bring us back from those difficult places and to hear us when we pray. Amen!