I thought a thing I feared was going to happen. I couldn’t do a blessed thing to stop it, and I looked bleakly into the future (“I knew you’d over-think this,” my friend said; “you always over-think things like this”) and thought, as I sometimes do, about fate.
Fate. Destiny. To use a much-debated term of Christian theology, predestination. How much of my life is determined by my choices, and how much is simply going to happen to me because God wills it — call it doom or glory; it may go either way.
I Googled “destiny” and found a wealth of opinion. There’s William Jennings Bryan, winner of the famous 1925 Scopes Trial, believing firmly in our own power to direct fate: “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
And there’s Albert Einstein, looking at the universe through very different eyes. He declared, “Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect, as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”
In my own fearful circumstance, I knew Bryan was wrong; there was nothing, either righteous or sinful, I could do to ward off fate. But Einstein’s Invisible Piper was hardly comforting. In fact, it’s Aldous Huxley who best phrased my feelings: “My fate cannot be mastered; it can only be collaborated with and thereby, to some extent, directed. Nor am I the captain of my soul; I am only its noisiest passenger.”
With my future all uncertain, I lifted my noisy self in prayer, and between praying and morbid introspection I learned something about the future by looking into the past. In Scripture I can see the pattern of my fate, and so I can collaborate with it. In my own life I can see the hand of God bringing things together. Destiny is for me a real thing. The forces directing it have been active for a long, long time — I cannot see the Piper, perhaps, but I can certainly hear the tune.
How long has it been playing?
I could take the song of my own life back to Eden, where Adam and Eve plunged us all into this present darkness and God gave His first prophecy of the coming Messiah, the “seed of the woman,” who would pull us back out again. I could trace it to Noah, showing how God preserved faith in Himself against the tremendous forces of evil now abroad in the world. All those Old Testament genealogies, and the long lists of generations that begin Matthew and Luke, are more than names. They are notes in the Piper’s tune, ensuring that faith is kept alive, that the Jewish people survive capture and deportation and persecution and sin, that new prophecies are given and written down and remembered, and finally that the Seed of the Woman promised all the way back in Eden is born.
That was roughly 2,000 years ago. But the song of my destiny continues. When Jesus walked in Jerusalem, my ancestors were giving the Romans trouble in Europe and the British Isles; they were Celts, Danes, northern warriors and tribesmen. The Invisible Piper sent His song winging over the sea, and it was heard and embraced in those far northern climes. And from there the message of the Messiah sank into the culture and became more and more a part of who my ancestors were, through the years of Celtic Christianity, the Catholic Church, the Reformation, wars and rumors of wars, world without end. And destiny kept on. Faith stayed alive, and it transformed person after person on the long march down to me.
But all those years are shadowed. I can only guess at the hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of individual stories within them, at the million little twists of “fate” that ensured some heard and believed and were adopted into the family of God.
Other years are closer to home.
My grandmother gave her testimony at her own funeral, thanks to the marvels of modern video. At 17, she was a vivacious young woman who loved dancing and laughter and charming young men. She did not really grow up in the church, but living in Iowa in the 1940s, she was familiar with basic Christian doctrine. She knew, as she put it, that Jesus had come to show us the way, tell us the truth, and give us the life. But one evening she stepped into a church and read a banner that said, “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life.”
Those simple words changed her life. That very night she asked God to forgive her sins, and when she rose from her knees she felt as though God had taken a cloth and scrubbed her clean. Her destiny arose shining and clear. Eventually, she led her parents and sister to the Lord, met my grandfather through an amazing series of coincidences, and moved to Canada where she gave birth to eight children. One was my father. And when I was born, Grandma held me and sang, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”
A plan that started in Eden and climaxed in Jerusalem wove its way through centuries and empires and nations and cultures to find me.
I don’t know what is going to happen in my life tomorrow. Some pleasant things, I’m sure, and some I dread. But I should know by now that they can’t thwart destiny. God has called me. He has reached out to me and to all who walk alongside me. And sure as I’m breathing, He has predestined me to know Him.
I remember the night I heard God say, when I was 13 years old, that He was with me — and immediately felt His presence in a way that lingered for weeks. That heightened spiritual state led me to serve with a desert ministry for several years, where I experienced God in a whole new way. Those years of walking closely with Him carried me through drier, more difficult years to come. Each experience builds on the last. Every bit of the song builds to a crescendo that grows clearer every day.
Piece by piece, note by note, destiny plays on. It’s the song Paul was singing in Ephesians 1 when he declared the work of the Invisible Piper in the life of every believer:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Is every detail of my life predestined? I don’t know. I don’t know how my own choices play into my future — I believe they do, somehow. But when I look back, through the years of my own life, through the stories of my parents and grandparents and the generations before them, through the annals of history and the records of the Scripture, when I look back on all these things I can hear it: Still winging its way through the world, a song of destiny that calms me, noisy passenger that I am, and reminds me that I know the Piper’s name.
Equally, I know His plan. He has worked for thousands of years, orchestrating circumstances and maintaining relationships, all for the sake of adopting me as his child.
I still fear the future a little. But in the end, I will sleep in the song of His grace, knowing that the destiny I move toward is one of His design. Knowing that I am predestined to be His, and that all the forces of fate can only drive me to His arms.
Copyright 2010 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved.