Rinse and Repeat: Encouragements to Press On

Introduction

If the genesis of Calvinism lies in the sovereignty of God, the genesis of fatalism lies in the failure to understand the companion reality of the responsibility of man. The uncoupling of the two creates suspicion of the need to stick with the ordinary tasks of life. After all, reason reasons, if it’s God’s will he will see it through.

The only case for fatalism is to point to the passages about God’s sovereignty and ignore all the rest. It’s a hermeneutically provocative revolt that can draw believers into trouble. The preparatory stage of trouble starts when the mind falls into the habit of wondering: What’s the point of doing the right thing? Why should I wash the dishes again? Why should I maintain that friendship? Why mow the lawn? Why persist with moral earnestness? Why comply with the habits of grace, or church attendance?

It’s a frightening sensation when the mind is overcome with a sense of icy inevitability. On a practical level, it assumes that since God is sovereign over all things, it doesn’t matter how we live as long as we don’t transgress the obvious boundaries. It’s the feeling that your light has dimmed, your purpose is undefined, your motivation subject to fluctuations outside your control, and your hope stripped bare.

The good news is that those who have cleared away everything but God’s sovereignty can, if they like, put back everything else. Only then can the eyes see that life is more than a frozen formality. Fatalism is a perversion of the sovereignty of God, perverted precisely because it forgets that God works through means. Divine grace works through the means of Word, Sacrament, and prayer. The doctrine of God’s Providence is that God’s will is carried out in heaven and earth. Fatalism forgets that this happens through God’s purposeful and personal action both in means and ends. It is true that God wills everything. This means not that God eliminates human choices, but that God is sovereign over them.

There is a way forward for those Christians who have slipped into the sub-Christian mindset that says Que será, será, or “What will be, will be.” The way forward is to recover a distinctly Christian view of the future. This requires learning to consider the present life as a pilgrimage with necessary eternal consequences. Since all actions on earth, including Jesus’ death and resurrection, are preparing man for a future life in a New Heavens and Earth, the true nature of life will not be appreciated unless it is lived in the light of eternity.

Consider three biblical encouragements to resist fatalism

First, practice patient endurance with an eye on the heavenly

Patience is possible when the end is certain. God has set before each Christian a race to run (Heb. 12:1). As different as the races may be, they must all be run the same way, with endurance, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Endurance describes the patient perseverance when things are hard. The model racer is Christ, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Notice that Christ endured because he connected the eternal result with the present pain. Christian endurance during the mundane tasks of life springs from a vital connection with the heavenly life to come. The earthly and the heavenly are not two spheres that only touch at death, they are two spheres permanently connected by Christ coming to earth.

Modern evangelical churches meet the runner on the path offering only psychological remedies as if the Kingdom of God was easy. Jesus would be surprised that faith is now little more than an echo of a modernized world that hates God. The church ought not to hide the fact that Christianity is deep (Eph. 3:17-19) and demanding (Lk. 14:33). The source of Christian patience isn’t to re-define the race but to import supernatural energy that enables faith to run over the banalest terrain. Christ ran his race fixated on the joy set before him and so should we.

Second, sow to the Spirit

It’s a fixed law of nature that you reap what you sow (Gal. 6:7). If you plant tulip bulbs you won’t grow Dutch Iris. In everything you do you plant something. You either sow to the flesh or sow to the Spirit. The former leads to corruption. The latter leads to eternal life (Gal. 6:8). Therefore, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Fatalism is a disorienting hamster wheel. It’s as if life is turning in meaningless circles, making human hamsters too dizzy to remember that sweat now, even in the mundane things, has meaning for eternity. It causes people to “grow weary,”—as Paul says—to become faint, lose heart and go as slack as a loose guitar string. In the past you ran the race with endurance, faithfully fulfilling the repetitious tasks of life. But over time you’ve run out of gas. The good news is that God “gives power to the faint” (Is. 40:29). The reason that’s good news is that when Christ returns, he will “repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).

As life carries on there is potential for double fainting. One of the body, which every Christian experiences. The other of the soul, which every Christian must fend off. Spiritual fainting is that which impeaches the good and makes all labor vain. The fainting of the soul is, as Anglican Ralph Cudworth once said, the flaking and remitting of the race set before us.[1] One problem with fatalism is it suspends progress. In defense against the threat of spiritual fainting, let us heed the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones when he says, “We need to look ahead, to anticipate, to look forward to the eternal glories gleaming afar. The Christian life is a tasting of the first-fruits of that great harvest which is to come.… Go on with your task whatever your feelings; keep on with your work. God will give the increase, He will send the rain of His gracious mercies as we need it. There will be an abundant harvest. Look forward to it. ‘Ye shall reap.’”[2]

Third, seek joy in the humdrum tasks of life

There are two refrains in Ecclesiastes which shape the meaning of the entire book. The first refrain is under the sun, which occurs 33 times. This phrase refers to life under heaven, a life of vanities lived without reference to God; life only on the human horizon. The second refrain is the great gift of God. Some version of this refrain appears at least 13 times.[3]

Ecclesiastes addresses the problem of the vanity of life (1:2) that results from the onerous repetition found in nature (1:2 – 11) and human experience (2:1 – 11). The incessant busyness of the world can feel as meaningful as digging a hole and filling it in. For those who fear God, he gives the gift of enjoying this world of redundancy. Most of the holes you dig in this life will be filled eventually, by someone or something. Yet the wise man can still enjoy the digging. This is the gift of God.

When these two phrases are brought together you get the overall point of Ecclesiastes. Under the sun there is vanity. Yet, for those who fear God, he gives the gift of enjoying life despite the many futilities. There is a season for everything (3:1). God has apportioned these times and seasons (3:10). And he doesn’t just apportion, he makes them beautiful in their time (3:11). In this way, God’s work endures forever.[4]

God has apportioned our lot, and our human lot is repetitious. How many times did you brush your teeth last year? How many dinners did you prepare? How many bottoms did you spank? How many times did you sit down to pay bills, catch up on the news, or send that text message? Every night you get ready for bed and the next day you do it all again. From the limited perspective, the mundane repetition of life is vanity. When everyone is moving in a circle of repetition, life seems headed for nowhere. That’s why God’s children need to see things from the eternal view, from above the sun. When you do, the repetition of life won’t stop, but in God’s grace, you will find joy in life’s recitals.


Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.


[1] George, T. F. (2011). In G. L. Bray & S. M. Manetsch (Eds.), Galatians, Ephesians: New Testament (Vol. 10, p. 217). IVP Academic.

[2] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), p. 201.

[3] For example 2:24, 3:12, 13, 22; 5:18; 6:2; 8:15; 9:4, 7, 16, 17, 18; 10:19.

[4] Wilson, Douglas. Joy at the End of the Tether: The Inscrutable Wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Canon Press. Kindle Edition.