Question 189:

What are your thoughts about fate? Are our lives predestined?



The belief in creation gains its final depth and its existential seriousness only through the belief in divine providence. At the same time, belief in divine providence brings with it major existential difficulties. Again and again we find ourselves in a situation in which we ask: Why do I have to suffer this? Why me? People often spoke, and still sometimes speak of a blind, a good and a bad fate. Often, they meant and mean this fate was written in the stars and that it could be discovered using astrology. In secular language we speak of someone being a darling of fortune, a Sunday’s child, of someone being born under a lucky star, or of someone being jinxed. Consciously or subconsciously there are still many relicts of superstition: a talisman, fear of unlucky numbers, belief in good and bad signs etc.

The Bible also assumes that life and reality as a whole have an order, which reigns over mankind like a power. But for the Bible, this power is no anonymous fate but the personal guidance from God. The Old Testament already speaks of this personal guidance in the case of some individual biblical people, such as the Egyptian Joseph, Moses who is pulled out of the Nile water thanks to Gods care, Tobias for whom God provides an angel to accompany him on his journey. This personal guidance is particularly strongly expressed in the well known psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want...

He restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness

for his name's sake.

Even though I walk

through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

(Ps 23:1, 3-4)

Similar also psalm 91 which is also a hymn: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High (Ps 91). The book of Wisdom of Solomon witnesses divine providence in general: "For he has made the small and great, and cares for all alike." (Wisdom of Solomon 6:7). Jesus in particular shows again and again that his life, his ministry and his death are completely at the will of the father. Therefore he can urge us with an almost child-like trust.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life...

Look at the birds of the air;

they do not sow or reap or store away in barns,

and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not much more valuable than they?

So do not worry...

For the pagans run after all these things,

and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

(Mt 6:25-26, 31-32; cf. 10:26-31)

The New Testament summarises Jesus message thus: Cast all your worries on him because he cares for you (1 Pet 5:7).

All these are not idyllic thoughts of pious but unworldly people. Rather, the belief in divine providence in the Old and the New Testament stands in the context of Gods overall plan of salvation. According to this, God led mankind in many steps (the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David) to the new covenant in Jesus Christ to its fulfilment at the end of time. Through his Spirit he also leads the church to prepare through it the all encompassing Kingdom of God. Divine providence for the individual is in aid of this comprehensive plan for salvation. The key to Jesus belief in providence thus lies in the statement: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Mt 6:33). This is no mere naïve optimism. Rather, what is means is: make God and the care for his kingdom to the focus of your life, then the world changes around you.

The belief in divine providence expresses that the immense creation and God’s comprehensive salvific plan are aimed at the individual human being, indeed, that the purpose of creation and of history is being decided within each human being. Divine providence must therefore not be misunderstood as a plan that ignores peoples wishes. It assumes the cooperation of the person who trusts himself to God’s care. In as far as a person trusts God’s will and changes his life, his fate also changes. The person who achieves accord with God also achieves accord with the world. Things and events then lose their strangeness and appear to be caused by God in a special way. Where this happens to a believer, God is for him already all and in all. Even where he cannot change his external situation, it nevertheless changes because he knows that nothing can separate him from the love of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:35) and I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).

The inner connection of God’s all encompassing providence and the freedom of human beings is particularly apparent in intercessory prayer. Being allowed to intercede in itself shows that human beings have access to God and may know themselves to be accepted. It expresses that God hears, listens to and affirms human beings. Such interceding therefore in no way reduces a person to a submissive figure. On the contrary, God’s plan includes intercession in eternity. God’s all powerful providence does not cut out peoples initiative but includes and enlists it. If a person therefore brings his situation before God in prayer he can be sure of being heard. Jesus himself tells us: Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mk 11:24, cf. Mt 7:7, 21:22; Lk 11:9).

Many will ask in surprise: If God truly answers every prayer, how about the prayers which – apparently or truly – are not being heard, where God remains silent, although we may have besieged him with payer? The answer is not easy. But in the light of Jesus clear statement we have to reply: God answers every prayer in a way which exceeds all our hopes. If he therefore does not answer a prayer in the way we would wish him to, then that is because this wish does not yet represent what is truly best for us. St Augustine expresses it like this: Good is God, who often does not give us what we want, so that he may give us what we should rather want. St Thérèse of Lisieux therefore says; If you do not answer my prayers, I love you even more. In particular when God corrects our wishes and deepens our faith, our hope and our love, he reconciles us in prayer to our situation and grants us a peace that exceeds all (cf. Phil 4:7).

All this shows that ultimately, divine providence remains his mystery, the mystery of the larger God and his larger love. The belief in divine providence does not simply dissolve the mysteries of existence, nor does it make them easily transparent. It gives us no insight into God’s thinking, nor does it explain to us the particulars of God’s providence and guidance in the world. It does not make our own life story transparent so that we should rise above all and that we should be spared darkness and challenge. Especially as regards the guidance of history God is a hidden God (see Isa 45:15).

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the lord, or who became his counselor” (Rom 11:33-34)?

But that which remains incomprehensible when seen through the eyes of faith in divine providence alone, now becomes a still unfathomable but trust inspiring mystery. Whereas those who believe in fate find at its deepest core indifference and emptiness, those who believe in divine providence discover the love of the father. Although we have no insight into the how of divine ways and guidance, we can still repeatedly recognise signs, which the believer experiences as God’s guidance. Faith is thus confirmed and strengthened in the belief, and we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28). (Katholischer Erwachsenen-Katechismus, Vol 1: Das Glaubensbekenntnis der Kirche, pp.102-106)

Contact us

J. Prof. Dr. T. Specker,
Prof. Dr. Christian W. Troll,

Kolleg Sankt Georgen
Offenbacher Landstr. 224
D-60599 Frankfurt
Mail: fragen[ät]

More about the authors?