LUCK AND FATALISM
‘You’re just lucky,’ a young woman said to a friend who had announced her engagement to a young, macho, Wall Street success. How many people think that so much in our lives is due to luck? The English historian, A.J.P. Taylor in his Politics in Wartime observed that a question that was often used to assess a man’s practical value was, ‘Has he luck?’
‘Luck’ becomes a form of fatalism that says things happen in life as the result of ‘the random play of chance in human affairs’. If you get caught in an earthquake in LA, a shooting in Mexico, or floods in India, it’s simply bad luck. Fatalism springs from a sense of helplessness. As the song, Que sera, sera, put it, Whatever will be, will be.
Two and a half millennia ago the Jewish people, captive in ancient Babylon, could have been drawn to the idea of fate. Their captors were the inventors of astrology. They had developed all kinds of divination including the occult. The exiled Jewish people might well have asked, ‘Where is the power of the God of Israel compared with the power and scientific advances of the Babylonians?’ With the significant advances in science and technology around us today, we too may be tempted to ask, ‘Where is God’s power?’
We can draw strength from Isaiah’s response to an implied question: The Lord, your Redeemer and Creator, says: “I am the Lord, who made all things. I alone stretched out the heavens. By myself I made the earth and everything in it. I am the one who exposes the false prophets as liars by causing events to happen that are contrary to their predictions. I cause wise people to give bad advice, thus proving them to be fools (Isaiah 44:24-25).
WHO’S IN CONTROL?
‘Who’s in control?’ Isaiah was asking. The Babylonians thought they could read their destiny in the stars. But Isaiah’s response is to ask a question, ‘Who made them? The Lord did.’ (It is often helpful to ask yourself this question in times of temptation or when someone challenges you about a matter of faith.)
Indeed, Isaiah continues, ‘God, the Lord who created everything, has power over the details of the universe. He can even say to the rivers, “Be dry!” – and they are. And don’t be impressed by the wisdom of the wise,’ Isaiah continues, ‘God foils and overturns their wisdom’.
‘Think,’ says Isaiah. ‘Rather than the academics at the university of Babylon, it is God’s servants, the prophets, who bring you the truth. You want to know what will happen, then listen: Cyrus — God’s shepherd shall surely carry out his purpose’ (44:28).
It’s hard for us to imagine the impact that Isaiah’s words would have had on his readers, for he was writing two hundred years before Cyrus was born. Furthermore, Cyrus would begin life as an obscure prince in the far north of Babylon. It was humanly inconceivable that he could rise and conquer the Babylonian empire and then later, give orders for the return of the Jews to their homeland – something he did around 520BC.
For Isaiah to speak of some future unknown, insignificant prince as God’s shepherd would have invited not just ridicule, but anger. Cyrus was no relation of Abraham let alone King David. But Isaiah insisted: Cyrus would rise and wield great power, which he would use for the benefit of God’s people. It would happen because God had decreed it.
In 45:5-6 we read: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.”
God’s perspective of history is so different from ours. It’s worth thinking about Israel’s history. Archaeology tells us something of ancient Egypt’s history, but in God’s history book the most significant thing the Egyptians did was release a rabble of Semitic slaves. Or again, at the time of the Roman Empire, Pontius Pilate had a successful career in the Roman government; but in God’s book the significant thing for which he is known is his decision to crucify a man from Nazareth.
All this tells us something very significant about the stories of human affairs: God himself is involved, using human decisions to work out his greater purpose. C.S. Lewis spoke of God as the divine interferer. History is ultimately God’s story, for he is working out his plans in our fallen world.
Let’s always remember this – not least in times of social, political and economic turbulence!