– by Paul Rezkalla –
Why should we pray if God has fixed the future? If God has predetermined every event, how do we reconcile that fact with the power of prayer to actually change things (James 5:16)?
The answer is found in a right understanding of God’s providential determination.
Determinism ≠ Fatalism
It’s important to distinguish between determinism and fatalism. Most Calvinists believe in a form of determinism—that is, God has determined every single event. At each moment there is only one possible future: the future God has determined. This is not to be confused with fatalism. Fatalism is the view that our choices don’t affect the future. Some Christians, both Calvinists and non-Calvinists, think of God’s providence in this incorrect way: “If God has determined every future event, then my choices don’t affect the future.”
Fatalism is both philosophically and theologically impoverished. It holds that God fixes some, but not all, future events in place.
Suppose God has determined to heal Sally of cancer three months from now; it will happen and cannot fail to happen. The event is fixed. But so is every other event leading up to that moment—including the prayers offered on Sally’s behalf.
God not only ordains ends, he also ordains means. He plans the destination and the entire journey to get there. When God determined that Christ would die on the cross, he also determined the means by which he was killed, the means by which he was delivered to the authorities, and the means by which he was betrayed. God governs all events in his universe—including the “small” ones leading up to the “big” ones.
What happens in the future, then, does depend on what we do and pray in the present.
Prayer Changes the Future
Some things have happened only because they were prayed for; they would not have happened if they were not prayed for.