Determinism

September 6, 2007

Determinism: The idea that everything happening happen for a reason… is part of a bigger plan, was either caused by God, or permitted by God.

Sitting at a party last night I heard a couple of people having some heated theological debates. All in good heart, they are very good friends, simply your average student trying to figure out the world. At one stage this was the argument used by one of the guys, don’t know why, we were sitting around another fire discussing literature. But it’s a popular philosophy, remember hearing this same thing in conversations myself, and came upon this same argument from a fellow blogger, so this is partly a reaction on her, and partly just my thoughts on this whole thing.

This is not isolated to simply Fundamentalist views, and it’s not even isolated to the Christian religion. The Muslims are well-known for having this same view, and in a conversation with a Muslim a few weeks ago he used this exact thing to explain suffering according to the Muslim view – Allah causes everything to happen with a reason. I’m not sure about Jewish views on this, but have a strong feeling that you will find the same thing in conservative Hindu thoughts, but that is just an idea, reconstructed from the little I know about Hindus. I can’t see this coming from Buddists, but maybe some of you know more about these religions and can give some thoughts.

In our own tradition this same thing was asked at times. Those of you following my thoughts might know that I see the Bible as containing different ideas about God, and not simply one single answer. But yes, we do find this idea in the Bible

First we find the idea in Israel that God is not always able to do good, the experience of bad things do not fit a good God. A possible answer is given to this when they say that

1 Samuel 2:6-7 “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. (see also Deuteronomy 32:39).

One way of accounting for bad things is to say that God is responsible for everything, and thus there is a reason why things happen. Very much what I am talking about when I use the term determinism. One problem is, though, that we also find reference to a God who is only good
Psalm 145:9 good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.…
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.

Furthermore we find that human beings can act against the will of God, over and over again. Yes, sometimes God turn these situations around, but most of the time God send people to tell them they should change. There come times when people simply act contrary to that which is the will of God. There come times when God is not determining what is happening, but when this is simply determined by the will of me… I think.

I think determinism can sometimes be an easy way to explain away the bad things, maybe similar to what Israel did, to explain why bad things happen. If you can hold on to the believe that God has some bigger plan with this, it is making it easier to cope. I’ve seen this for example in a fried a few weeks ago who lost a number of people very close to her, the easiest way to cope, was to assume that God must have a bigger plan with all the death, pain and suffering.

Sometimes it can also be an easy way to reason our own responsibility away. If everything happens with a purpose, it lessons our own responsibility in fighting injustice. At least, this is what I sometimes experience in arguments. But we find another voice in the Old Testament, one which point out God as the one who see injustice, but humans have to fight this injustice

Exodus 3:6-8 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians…

God is concerned about the Israelites, but in stead of going down and rescuing them, Moses get the task. Was it possible for Moses to make a screw-up of all this? Well, I do think so yes.

OK, back to determinism. It might be an easy way out, and yes, it is one that even the Bible writers have experimented with, but in the way we use it today, it’s simply using God as the divine excuse for everything. The divine reason for every difficult question.

OK, still have a lot of thinking to do over this, so maybe you’d like to add some thoughts.

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4 Responses to “Determinism”


  1. […] Why do bad things happen? A lot of them have lost friends through death. They mostly believe that God has a purpose with everything, although they doubt this sometimes, and some find it better when they get told that maybe we do not need to believe that there is a purpose behind everything. I’m actually very much troubled by the fact that so many of our young people have this idea, as I’ve also said here. […]

  2. Jenna Says:

    Everything happens for a reason… but very clearly, not everything happens for a reason God has.
    Frequently, the reason is sin.
    True– God allows it to happen. But then again, often we’ll suffer our own foolishness in silence much longer than we’ll allow our friends and family to be hurt by our sin.
    Though sin is the reason for so many things that affect us, as followers of Christ we can depend on two things.
    1. God will work everything (including circumstances that are the result of sin) to the good of those who follow Him/are called according to His purposes.
    2. What man intends for evil, God intends for Good.
    This may seem a simpler view than what you are looking for… but it’s an effective truth.

  3. Renier Says:

    I must point out that Determinism can also be a secular concept and it means that we do not have free will, only the illusion of it.

  4. zacbailes Says:

    What we want and what occurs often turns out quite different. I would like to have a peaceable world absent of pain and full of joy. Yet, this reality is all too often far away from my reality, and yours I’m sure of it.

    We can call this inability to provide a peaceable world sin, and we can attribute it to the failings of humanity. Yet, does hope still not exist. No, not an optimism, but a theological hope that God will create a new heavens and a new earth. The reality of hope and peace will not occur without human action. And the movement of tectonic plates do not occur at the finger-twitch of god. So, as we respond to suffering of all kinds let us remember that humans inhabit the earth and it is our responsibility to provide a hospitable place for the infirmed.


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