By Jaime Nava –
As Americans, fatalism is a four-letter word. Which of us would like to think that our life map is planned, and our stars set? No, instead we look to those well worn boot straps, take a deep breath, and pull. We’re the John Wayne, Rambo, Lightning McQueen that carves out our reality against all odds. Those same bootstraps can be found hewn to many churches across the US. There’s the bootstrap of age-segregated services, food banks, or all types of kitschy games people play during the church service. We’re ready to try all kinds of things to make sure we grow God’s church. There’s always a new strategy, a new form of leadership, or some new law to draw people to God’s place of grace.
I get it. I don’t think that every choice I make is preordained. I don’t think God cares if I eat Grape Nuts or Cheerios. I don’t think he cares if I choose black or tan shoes. There are plenty of things that we choose or choose not to do every day that is based on careful reasoning. The Holy Spirit didn’t pick my shirt, I did. Is there fatalism in Christianity then?
Fatalism says that everything is already set up. Ultimately, it says we don’t really make any choices. The end of fatalism is asking the question, “Why bother?” If everything is going to happen the way it’s been written long beforehand, who cares what I do? If you need me, I’ll be on the couch binge-watching Netflix and eating Cheetos.
The truth is, the Bible does speak of fatalism on some level. Don’t believe me?
…he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… -Ephesians 1:5
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will -Ephesians 1:11
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. -Romans 8:29-30
Now, because this is the internet I have to add in a disclaimer: Lutherans do not teach double predestination as some are in the habit of doing. We do teach single predestination. God is the only one who choose who are His elect. God does not predestine people to hell. Scripture does not speak this way. Since God chose who is saved, this means we have zero, ZERO, involvement in our salvation. Sounds kinda fatalistic, doesn’t it?
Why is this a comfort for us? We look to God for our salvation, not our own strength. We don’t look to our bootstraps but to the nail in the feet of Jesus (or whatever comparable thing we can say about feet). The burden of life, salvation, and forgiveness is not on our shoulders. That burden was laid on Christ.
“But!” Some may exclaim, “If we don’t get people into the door the church will die!” This falsehood mixes Law and Gospel. The Law does not grow the church. The business of the church is what we do not find written on our hearts. As Rev. Koch says, “The church delivers the goods.” That’s what we should be inviting people to. The body of Christ has already risen from the dead. It cannot die again.
“So why bother?” cry others. We bother because that is Christ’s wish. God does not enjoy the death of any sinner. He desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. We are called to proclaim the Good News because that’s what Jesus wants to talk about. How can they believe unless they are sent? We bother because that’s how Christ decided for His body to increase, by His saving Word.
We must be intentional not to think that serving our neighbor grows the church. We serve the neighbor because they need to be served. We don’t make them wait to get free food until they hear a sermon. We don’t shuffle the age groups of the body of Christ off into different compartments because it’s more business savvy or even geared for different ages. We don’t tack on boot strap to the church to carry it into heaven. We serve others even if the person is a hater of the church until his last breath, because we’re in the business of mercy.
Here’s the beauty of having just enough fatalism: Jesus is the one who saves, not you or your programs. You can rest. You can trust that you’re in God’s hands. You can loosen your cramped hands and finally let go of those things we thought were our ticket to heaven. We know God has chosen us because we felt the water of forgiveness. We know because we have tasted His very body and blood. We know because we were told from God Himself, “I forgive all your sins.” The church will not live or die because of us. It will live on because that’s what God has chosen from the foundation of the world.