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What does the Bible say about fate/destiny?

First, let's understand what fate and destiny mean. Fate is the development of events beyond human control, as determined by a supernatural power. Destiny is the events that necessarily happen to a specific person or thing in the future. Fate and destiny are not biblical ideas because the Bible's description of future events is much more complicated than either of these.

The Bible teaches that people have free will and have been exercising it since they were created. In the beginning Adam and Eve were given the choice of obeying God in the garden of Eden: they could choose whether or not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and eat the fruit of the tree (Genesis 3). This demonstrates a major part of human free will: our ability to choose to obey or disobey God. We also have free will in other areas of our lives. We are free to choose where to live, where to work, whether or not to go to school, whom to befriend, whether or not to marry, and so much more. These choices affect our lives long-term to various degrees. In contrast to the concepts of fate or destiny, our lives will not go a certain direction void of or participation.

Because our choices have life-affecting consequences, free will comes with responsibility. People are free to choose how they will walk through this life, and they are responsible for the outcome of their choices. The Bible teaches that good choices will naturally have good results, but bad choices will naturally have bad ramifications: "Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail" but "He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend" (Proverbs 22:8, 11). Whereas the concepts of fate and destiny often point to a predetermined outcome over which there is little to no personal influence, the Bible talks of the natural law of reaping and sowing. Rather than a fatalistic and resigned approach to life, the Bible encourages active participation.

There are some guaranteed outcomes to our choices, specifically, our choice whether or not to have faith in Jesus Christ. If we choose to trust Him as our Lord and have a relationship with Him, we are promised eternal life. God knows what we will choose beforehand, therefore some will "stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:8–9). God promises that "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. . . . For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame'" (Romans 10:9–11).

Here it must be stated that the Bible upholds the sovereignty of God. Ultimately, He is in control. Our choices will not alter His over-arching plan for the world; His will is accomplished. Yet at the same time, the Bible teaches that we have genuinely meaningful free will. God is not manipulating us or our choices. We choose things, good or bad, fully out of our own volition: "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God' For God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (James 1:13–14).

God does not tempt us or manipulate us however He pleases, but He does have a calling on each person's life. This could be confused with fate or destiny, except that each person can choose whether or not to follow. God anointed David to be king thirty years before he was crowned. God says of the prophet Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). But like Jonah we are free to choose to disobey God and not to walk in our calling, to our own undoing. God promises that His plans are for our good. We will never be disappointed in the outcome when we follow the Lord's will for our lives. God told the Israelites, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. And I will be found by you, declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 29:11–14).

Our free will does not contradict God's sovereignty. God is outside of time, therefore His foreknowledge is perfect. Because of His omniscience, He is able to say, "The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass," (Isaiah 48:3) and, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose" (Isaiah 46:10). Since creation, God has had a plan for the earth, and because of His foreknowledge He knows which choices we will make before we make them. He is able to use our choices and work with or inspire them to accomplish His purposes.

As confusing as it may sound, God is sovereign and He has given humans meaningful choice—His will is accomplished and yet this is not the same thing as fate or destiny. The concepts of fate and destiny often speak to some impersonal force orchestrating the events of the world and lead to a life of resignation. But God is personally involved in the universe, desiring relationship with humanity, whom He created in His image (Genesis 1:26–27). This relationship requires our participation, even though God is ultimately in charge of the outcome of His work. One day God will bring judgment on the earth, and He will also one day make all things new (Revelation 20—22). All who put their faith in Jesus Christ are guaranteed eternal life, while those who persist in unbelief remain condemned (John 3:16–18). We can follow Him in this life, demonstrating love and honor for God as well as experiencing fullness of life (John 10:10; 15:1–17).


Related Truth:

Does the sovereignty of God have an impact on everyday life?

Does the Bible teach anything about setting goals?

How do we see the hand of God move in our lives?

Why does obedience to God matter?

What does the Bible say about the purpose of man?


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