Commentary: An active faith, not fatalism

What does Psalm 121 mean for us today?

Psalm 121:1-2

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains
   where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.

Week 24 (June)

A few days after our return to Italy from our first home assignment year, I was in the apartment of an Italian woman. Our conversation turned to spiritual matters over a cup of espresso in her small, high-ceilinged kitchen. She is not a born-again Christian, although her daughter and son-in-law had been converted 15 years previously.

"I believe in fate," she suddenly said to me. "Whatever is meant to happen to you will happen."

When I started to protest, she continued, "How else do you explain why a man is hit by a car as he crosses a certain street corner? He could have crossed somewhere else or waited a moment and lived. It's all up to chance or fate."

That can be a tough argument to counter. In fact, in my book, Paul McGrady: Mr. Evangelism, I did not feel competent to address the why? of the death of an evangelist-professor in the prime of his life and ministry.

Let it be said, however, that I believe in David's Holy Spirit-inspired words in Psalm 121:8: "The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore".

Life is more than a mere chain of circumstances that we cannot control. Satan too often lulls us into accepting a view of life like this woman's. Sometimes we Christ-followers even say, "Well, that's the way life is."

But is it only that? Isn't there a Creator who is indeed active on our behalf? Didn't the Holy Spirit inspire David to write, "The Lord watches over you -- the Lord is your shade at your right hand" (Psalm 121:5)?

With my limited human perspective, I don't have all the answers to the questions of life. I don't know why we are sometimes dealt such hard blows. But I know there is much more at work than mere fate or chance. When we find ourselves living on the level of this woman who has little conscious realization of God's presence, we must remember to ask ourselves with David, "Where does my help come from?" (v.1)?

Help does come from the Lord! That's David's view of life expressed in Psalm 121. We are aware of God who never tires of being our Keeper. And we have the opportunity to express often, both to ourselves and to others, our faith in a God who is intervening in our affairs.

We needn't live our lives resigned to fatalism. Our thoughts don't have to be shaped by a perspective that smacks of obliviousness to God's presence and action.

Let's put our faith actively in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Messiah is all that David pictures Him to be in Psalm 121, and He is even more.

Reflection questions

  1. In what ways is the concept of fatalism different from the message of Psalm 121?
  2. What are some potential dangers or negative consequences of adopting a fatalistic worldview?
  3. How might believing in an active God who watches over our lives impact our perspective on hardships and challenges?
  4. In what ways can we actively put our faith in God instead of succumbing to fatalism?
  5. What practical steps should we take to maintain a conscious realization of God's presence and action in our lives?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It was published in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes produced by The Foundry.


The concepts of fate and fatalism have long fascinated philosophers and writers grappling with the mysteries of existence. Fate embodies the notion that events are predetermined and inevitable, often beyond human control or influence. Fatalism extends this idea to suggest that human actions are ultimately futile in the face of an unchangeable destiny.

Evangelical Christians reject fatalism, emphasizing the importance of personal choice, accountability, and God's sovereignty. They believe that while God may have a plan or purpose for individuals and events, humans still have the ability to make choices and influence outcomes through their actions. They believe that through prayer, obedience to God's Word, and reliance on God's grace, individuals can discern and fulfill their purpose within God's overarching plan for what He has created.

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