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January 29, 2012

Question: To what extend are events predestined?

 The theology of predestination or fate is one of the most abstruse of divine questions. But the Bahá’í writings cast some light on this mystery. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the third Central Figure of the Bahá’í Faith, was a prisoner of the Ottoman Turkish regime in Acco, now Israel, he gave two talks in Some Answered Questions concerning fate and free-will.

He said that fate or predestination is of two kinds: decreed and impending. Decreed fate is predestined and cannot be avoided. When the oil in the lamp is consumed, the flame is extinguished. Death is decreed or fated for all, as the word fatal-ity implies. What is not clear, however, is whether accidental death is decreed or not. But the power of God is such that when life is threatened, ardent prayer may result in the granting of life in the face of impending death.

Impending fate may also be avoided by wisdom, foresight and caution. If I have a passion for dangerous sports, I will increase my chances of accidental death. Such choices are subject to the free-will of individuals. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá clearly stated that humans are free in the choice of good and bad actions, and therefore, we are held responsible for them.

Now here is an important point. We know the sun will rise tomorrow, but our knowing is not the cause of its rising. God clearly has foreknowledge of all things, but His foreknowledge is not necessarily the cause of events. Clearly, many calamities occur because of human will, not the Divine Will. But it is not always clear why God allows some events to occur.

Here is another consideration. Although humans are free, they are absolutely dependent upon the power of God. This dependence applies indirectly even to the commission of sins and bad actions. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá compares this dependence on God to the wind that drives the sailing ship. The captain controls the rudder, and so may direct the ship of life toward good or bad deeds, but in whatever direction he turns, he still depends upon the power of the wind. But the acme of wisdom and goodness is to be content, whatever befalls.
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen January 29, 2012
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