Can Man Intervene in Predestined Events?

Posted on June 7, 2014 by Robert Ringer


A twenty-nine-year-old entrepreneur awakens before dawn to meet the challenge of a new day. Across town, a house painter goes through much the same ritual. The two men do not know each other, but, without realizing it, they will soon meet.

The young man heading east in a late-model Datsun and the painter traveling south in a Toyota pickup truck are destined to become participants in a one-in-a-million accident. At approximately 6:30 a.m., as the early morning sky is beginning to reveal a hint of color on the horizon, they arrive at a major Los Angeles intersection at precisely the same instant.

Had either of them taken just a few seconds longer to get dressed or start his car, he would have missed his catastrophic appointment with destiny. Unfortunately, the timing was perfect and the two men ended up on the wrong side of the law of averages.

Both parties were traveling at speeds of at least thirty-five miles an hour, and because it was so early in the morning, there were no other cars on the road to impede their progress. Also, the traffic light at that intersection was inoperative as a result of a severe windstorm the night before.

One of the paramedics who arrived on the scene shortly after the accident told me he was certain the young man never knew what happened, because the Datsun left no skid marks — meaning that the pickup truck must have slammed into it broadside without braking. The investigating officer told me it was one of the worst collisions he had ever seen.

The young man whose life ended so abruptly that morning was my nephew. He was intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious, with a great future ahead of him. I’ve been thinking a lot about him since last September, because he would have turned sixty on September 23. That’s thirty-one years of life that most of us take for granted that he never got to experience.

It’s also caused me to think a lot about whether or not cynics are right when they insist that the universe — and thus all events here on earth — are random. Or should the fate of my nephew and, say, school shooting victims be classified under the heading of “predestination”? All too often, it seems that bad things happen to innocent people for no other reason than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Which raises another question: Is the concept of free will in conflict with the concept of predestination set in motion by a Conscious Universal Power Source? On the surface, I would have to say yes. But that yesis based on a number of secularly based assumptions. Consider George Smith’s argument in his book Atheism: The Case Against God.

Briefly, the problem of evil is this: If God does not know there is evil, he is not omniscient. If God knows there is evil but cannot prevent it, he is not omnipotent. If God knows there is evil and can prevent it but desires not to, he is not omnibenevolent. If … God is all-knowing and all-powerful, we must conclude that God is not all-good. The existence of evil in the universe excludes this possibility.

Smith’s argument is compellingly logical — by secular standards, that is. But what about the possibility that God knows there is evil in the world, yet chooses not to stop it for reasons that are beyond our understanding? I respect the right of a person not to believe in a Supreme Being. However, if a Supreme Being does exist, only He would know the reasons for His actions.

Almost by definition, anything supernatural would be unknowable and indefinable in secular terms. Thus, I feel it would be the height of arrogance for me to believe I should be able to understand the motives of a Supreme Being. The human brain is guided by secular knowledge and logic, thus it has no frame of reference for anything that is metaphysical in nature.

It’s clear that there is a great deal more to life than that which we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. We cannot see infinity — or even begin to comprehend it — yet we know it exists. How can we possibly know what other dimensions exist in the universe? Or parallel universes?

About the only way I know of to avoid a conflict between the concept of free will and the concept of predestination determined by a Supreme Being is to consider the possibility that some events are predestined but others are not. And because man possesses free will, he has the capacity to make choices that can shape those events that are not predestined.

But let’s push the envelope. Is it possible for man to use his free will to influence events already set in motion by God? What if God is just testing us and actually wants us to intervene in “predestined” situations? What if there are things we can do to stop or reverse “evil.” From Columbine to Newtown, from the Holocaust to 9/11, from Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds to Assad’s massacre of his own people in Syria, one cannot help but wonder if such violence is predestined and, if so, whether man can use his free will to intervene.

Chew on that question a bit, then let me know what you think. Everyone’s opinion on this one is equal.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

45 responses to “Can Man Intervene in Predestined Events?”

  1. nikish86 says:

    If God wants us to intervene than he must give us capacity to grasp such ability within ourselves. Problem with life is not just that there are things out of our control, but we're all born with varying degrees of control over our lives.
    Worse, some people are born with inability to recognize "ability to control/intervene" within themselves. Examples, mentally retarded born people etc.

    • Joe Kothe says:

      I am just about finished reading Adam Hamilton's book, "Making Sense of the Bible". If you have not read it, I recommend you do so. The questions you raise in this article are some of the questions I have had for years and regularly read and study the Bible.

      I have read your books for years and consider you to be one of the most intelligent and practical Authors I know. I have learned a great many things from you books and articles and agree with your comments about the decline of Western Civilization and particularly the USA. Thanks for this very interesting article.

      Joe Kothe
      Cell Phone: (870) 404-7974

    • vechy16 says:

      I went to a psychic fair in Toronto in 1994. My first time ever, didn't know what to expect. She was colored American woman with a very high testimonial rating. She told me this was going to be a 30 minute recorded session, and that if I had any questions don't hesitate to ask. At the end of the session she said "you can playback the recording as many times as you wish and not be able to change a thing". Now is that predestined or what?

  2. Salustiano Pino says:

    I do believe that there is a supreme being ,GOD.You and I,us.and the universe around us proved that beyond doubt.Yes,there are or all things are either predestined or not.But there is also free will and justice.Of can use his free will to any that are not predestined,but there are so many things that are predestined that man can intervene but can not completely stop 'Like aging, timing,,dieing.etc

  3. Charles Martel says:

    You would be wrong, there is no God. Nothing is more obvious. It is a sign of weakness to believe that foolishness.

    It is well expressed by the fool Woody Allen who once said (paraphrased), "If there was a god, the best we could say about him is that he is an underachiever."

  4. Jay says:

    Does omniscient cover future events too?
    Can one be all-knowing but not know what is going to happen in the next second.
    Perhaps God is omnisurprised.

  5. Jack says:

    Robert's fairly recent fascination with the supposed existance of a supreme being may be disappointing but it's a result of his quest to understand every aspect of existance, something he will undoubtably fail.

  6. Jack says:

    Additionally, the old argument that we are incapable of knowing the supposed intentions of a 'god' is simply the snake oil used by organized religion to oppress and rule individuals. I will quote my aged Uncle J.W. who sums it up by saying two things. 1. "Organized religion is the greatest rip off ever perpetrated upon mankind." 2. With respect to the existance of 'god' he says "I don't know and neither do you." His brilliant extremely well read brother however is absolutely convinced there is no such thing as 'god'.

  7. Bill Handley says:

    We must believe in free will. We have no choice.

  8. Kerry says:

    In the bigger picture of infinity, we're only on earth for a short time. I believe our purposes for being here are to love, to learn, to grow. To add some levity, we also are given the ability to laugh and have some fun along the way. My belief is that our existence here is a co-creation with God. So yes, there are some things we can control and others we can't.. We don't get to know for sure whether certain events are predestined, but for the universe to have any cohesive purpose, there would almost have to be some level of predestination.

  9. Brian says:

    It appears that the design of existence arises dualistically – up/down, male/female, good/evil, light/darkness, life/death, form/void, etc.

    One side of the coin, for lack of a better analogy, has no meaning without the possibility of the other. Some might argue that eternal physical life would have no meaning. It's the very fact that it's limited and time bound that allows us to respect and cherish its ephemeral nature (and beauty).

    Some might even say that 'evil' serves goodness since it gives us a spectrum of choice, and allows each human being to exercise free will. Random events, like accidents or contracting a terminal illness, are solid reminders that life is a gift, and ultimately, we didn't control our birth, nor will we control our death, but we can decide how to live the packet of time we receive.

    So why philosophize about whether the existence of evil proves or disproves the existence of a Higher Power, and simply recognize that duality is built into the fabric of existence, and good without its opposite may very well be meaningless in a world, which might be designed as a classroom to develop character through the exercise of free will.

    We also have no idea what our departed friends or family may be experiencing post mortem – maybe being freed from flesh is a gift vs. a curse.

    Rather than intellectually debating such things, why not look at life as a gift to cherished, lived well, and grateful for – even with the existence of evil and pain?

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      Very well said. I never ceased to be amazed by how many people are absolutely certain that they know what is unknowable.

      • Fred says:

        My thoughts as well. The very nature of life is an unknowable mystery. One of the joys of life is to explore that mystery…to chase it as far as we can go. The way I see it, if there is a God and he wanted His existence to be obvious, there'd be a giant flashing sign in heaven. If God chooses His existence to be a mystery, perhaps it is only discernable to those open enough to see. To dismiss God either because one can find no "evidence" or because of some limited form of logic (as with Mr. Smith, quoted by Robert above) tells us more about the speaker than it does of the existence of God.

      • Charles says:

        If that is so Robert, every statement of fact would cause amazement. Given the premise of this discussion nothing is knowable rendering everything unknowable.

    • Doina says:

      I totaly agree how you think. Doina, Romania

  10. Phil says:

    First, I have to disagree respectfully with Jack above. Robert has long been interested in this topic, or so I would glean from his works. He did at one point in Looking Out for Number One suggest that the issues addressed here might be academic, but after that there is a progression in his thought. Give the guy a break, who has not moved along from one perspective to another.

    Second, on a personal note I have found while getting older that personal faith really does lead to a more profound perspective on life. I do not proselytize and in fact find that the wisdom in many major religious traditions to be extremely valuable in achieving personal growth. Perhaps this is not exactly on point, but – at any rate – there is little doubt that there is a force at work that is incomprehensible to the human mind. It is okay if you disagree, but I do not understand why it makes so many people so angry to hear such an opinion.

    Man's Question for Meaning is fundamental to being human. Every society throughout history has struggled with the question. One must come to terms with the issue in order to achieve any degree of happiness in this life (even if that means that one finds atheism the most appropriate solution).

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      I have long suspected that such anger has its roots in fear. It is quite natural to fear the unknown. Fundamentalist religionists (which includes the religion of atheism, which is simply another belief) do themselves a disservice by closing their minds to the search for the answers to the great questions of life.

      I respect everyone's opinion. And that's all our beliefs are – opinions. To believe otherwise requires a glaring lack of humility.

  11. Richard Lee Van says:

    Socrates via Plato said, "The greatest knowledge is to know that you do not know." Mostly we have "beliefs" and very little "knowledge". Many people hate the human inability to know, so they close their minds and become attached to their beliefs. Such attachment limits.Meeting open-ended questions deepens our minds. Personally, I belief in a God-concept even if I cannot "know" it, but I have no use for religion which only limits one's quest for knowledge. Etc, etc, etc.

    • Paul Anthony says:

      I DO believe in God, I just don't believe in Religion – and I don't think God does, either.
      If you believe in a God that loves all of the creatures He created, how could anything that divides us as much as Religion does be a part of that God's Plan?

      • Hi Paul – your take on religion (God not believing in it) is completely consistent with the Bible. In Pagan Christianity, George Barna and Frank Viola said that Jesus took the faith out of the temple, and put it on Main Street. And in fact, Jesus said that almost verbatim in John 4:21 (you will no longer worship God on the mountaintop or in Jerusalem). According to the Gospels, Jesus greatest disapproval was heaped on the religious leaders whom he described as “…whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” This is an extreme teaching, and few appreciate how truly radical Jesus really was. He in no way came to affirm the establishment.

        • John E. Gabor says:

          Jesus was "the establishment" from the beginning. The liberals and conservatives of the time didn't get it. Not much has changed.

  12. EJB says:

    It's a combination of randomness and pre-destination. There is something about pre-destination and randomness that makes "free will" appear – that is, influenced 100% by what you perceive (essentially randomness with an element of predestination) and the information network your brain is (essentially pre-destination with an element of randomness), you produce an action and intent. This is what "free will" is. It could be called an "illusion" or it could just be seen to be free will. A god is not required. The concept is 100% understandable. Only the specific things that happen, we may not "understand" as such. If we did understand everything, we would be able to see how this particle collided with that, and tell the complete story of how it happened, but so what? There would be no room for a "why?" to be asked.

  13. Paul Anthony says:

    The Bible says God gave us free will. Most people are afraid to exercise it because if we are free to choose we must also be responsible for the consequences of our decisions.
    That makes us powerful – but also accountable.
    One can't be in control and also be a victim.
    Was the accident Robert described inevitable? Or, could it have been avoided if either driver had been paying just a little more attention to his surroundings? Not paying attention is also a choice. One that can have devastating consequences. But when we fail, some take comfort in telling themselves the situation was predetermined and therefore out of our own control. Believing that is also a choice.

  14. Murray Suid says:

    Robert, once again you hit a homer–an essay that inspires your readers to think and to debate. Socrates would, I like to think, applaud your effort.

    I'm not clear why God would predestine a car crash as a way of testing us. If God is all knowing, why would he have to test anyone? Wouldn't he know what the person is made of?

    I'm astonished when there's a catastrophe–a plane crash, a house fire, a shooting–and a survivor says, "It was the will of God that I survived. It was a miracle." If that's so, what should we say about the victims such as your nephew, or my cousin who similarly died or…"

    I understand the concept of predestination. I don't understand why anyone would embrace it. Folks can call "free will" an illusion, but when I'm writing a script or working on an invention, the joy is that the results depend on what I do, not what God has willed me to do. If I really believed that everything was determined ahead of time, I wouldn't try. And how does it help me to learn that some things are determined and others not…unless these events or challenges are labeled so that I can tell which is which?

  15. Predestination vs. free will – can we have both? If you don’t believe in God then the point is clearly moot and no further discussion is necessary. If you do believe in God, the answer is “YES” – as in “yes” to both. As Robert pointed out, God can – and necessarily will – act in ways we can’t comprehend. That much is clear as a point of logic.__But to put in in more practical terms, we’re like children playing a fenced-in backyard. Inside the fence, we’re free to do as we please – that’s free will. But the fence represents predestination – the limit established by God – the point beyond which “thy will be done”. __In real life, the fence/predestination can be the time or our death, the ascendance to/decent from fame and fortune, being in a position to change history, or any life altering event. How we get to the point of our destiny may be largely up to us, even if we don‘t know what that destiny is. But the fact that we will get there is the predestination part.

  16. phil says:

    Regardless whether you believe in God or not, I've come to realize human beings cannot survive on this earth unless we are guided by laws. Without laws, man will stop at nothing to rule over other men. But you say, how do you enforce the laws? The religious answer is God will punish yo if you don't obey the laws.. But that hasn't stopped evil. Slowly I'm coming to realize that the answer to stopping evil lies with each and everyone of us. Just like Iron sharpens Iron, man sharpens man. We are the police. Just like people watching a football game, their eyes are on the refs and making sure they make the right call and following the rules. We need to watch our religious leaders, our politicians, our CEO's, our school teachers… yes we need to watch our fellow human beings to ensure they are following the laws of humanity.

  17. John E. Gabor says:

    If God exists in all space and time simultaneously, then He has already seen our destiny. Is it predestination or is it foreseen? If we have free will, then I think our destiny is foreseen. Free will takes us to our destiny. That is where responsibility comes in, as Paul said.

  18. Judith says:

    If we knew what was predestined that would make us a god. Every day we walk out the door we don't know if we are coming back again. What we know from being carbon elements is that we have a finite time on earth. We cannot control accidents or other people's actions. We will never know if there is a god who predetermines when we come into the world and when we go out. Faith and belief in God or no god is a choice. I learned that my perceptions of life changed with knowledge of the word of the God of Abraham. Faith is a choice. Life is a gift.
    There are no absolute answers to man's thirst for knowledge and understanding of things that happen whether joyous or painful. Life is. Eventually death is. In between we have a bit of time to try to accomplish something good for mankind or something evil. Knowing more would make us all dangerous. Why worry? You don't have that kind of time. Keep it about others. Be grateful for your time here. Believe what you wish. Be kind. You are only human. You will never be given the answers you seek about life, just do something positive with it and be available to help others in need. What if God is watching?

  19. Mark Humphrey says:

    I admire your copy writing and marketing mastery. For the most part, I like your politics too. But there is a serious flaw in your argument that human understanding cannot grasp Divine Intent.

    Moral principles are a kind of fact, similar to facts relating to science, economics, history and so forth. Morality is factual, because it is logically spun out of prior facts that can be established as valid. What prior facts? Human nature (properly understood). One properly grasps the nature of humans based on prior concepts from philosophy relating to the nature of knowledge (reason extended from the evidence of the senses), and the nature of the universe (no contradictions are possible). Moral principles are therefore a corollary of human nature.

    Because morality is factual, your assumption that reason is inadequate concerning ultimate issues undermines the philosophical foundation of morality. The only proper means of establishing facts is reason, so an argument against reason also argues against facts–including the facts of moral principles.

    This is why your argument leads to the conclusion that man cannot hope to understand moral issues, since God is all powerful and sets everything up. By destroying the foundations of morality, moral judgement soon crumples. Moral judgement is reason, which your argument claims to be "limited", meaning ineffective or leading to distortions.

    Obviously, appeals to faith lead to the destruction of knowledge, since anyone can assert faith about anything at all.

    • John E. Gabor says:

      You had me until "appeals to faith lead to the destruction of knowledge". Can you elaborate on that, please?

  20. Caroline says:

    God does not "prevent evil" because that would thwart the free will of man. It is not logical to blame God for the acts of men.

    • Amen Caroline! We blame God when things go badly and give ourselves a pass in the process. So much of what goes wrong is that society is a mess and we can't fix it. Robert has written volumes on the big picture areas where we're failing, but we don't always connect the dots to the logical extremes (bad/tragic outcomes). We claim credit when things work, and blame God when they don't. We ask, 'Why didn't He stop it', when we should ask 'Why didn't WE stop it?' We conclude that because bad things happen that there is no God, when it's our own free will that's at the root of the problems.

  21. It is both..just like in the Bible every chapter points to Jesus Christ, it was predestination that Jesus would be born & crucified. When you give your life to God, that is your choice, but now you are in God's hands so to speak and then your life isn't. Og Mandino told me a few years before he died, that he always felt like he was playing chess with God, meaning he would make a move than God would make a move. When you go to work most of us made a choice on where we work at, but once we are on the clock now our lives are predestined for that day.
    When I die because of my choice I bleive that my predestined outcome will be Heaven.
    As for evil, I like the old but true saying..The reason evil is growing becasuse good people do nothing!
    There are a large amount of good being done everyday, but our Media chosses to report but 1% so agin it's a choice that somebody has made for us, but it isn't the whole truth.
    Robert this is a big topic, thanks for sharing and I enjoyed reading everybody else's comments!
    Thank You

  22. Margaret T says:

    I can't comment on the bible as I have not read it all.I had too many visions which I couldn't cope with, when I was part way through. All I can go by is my life experiences. What I have learnt is 60% is predestined and 40% is free will (this from a fortune teller). When I was 19 I was talked into going to a séance. I didn't even know what the word meant then. The friend I went with kept being picked on by the glass. I thought someone was pushing it. The glass kept spelling "accident". Her first thought was her brother who died in an accident, but no it wasn't him. She kept asking questions but it kept saying no. We didn't sleep all night so she rang home next day and all her family were fine. My career took me to another city, but we kept in touch. Three years later in her letter she said she had been in a car accident and was now a hemiplegic. That is what she was being warned about. I have also had to defibrillate several people. The first time the scream as the person was revived made me wonder what I had done wrong. I'd done nothing wrong. On talking to these people later the common theme was that a close dead relative was there to take them, and that's why they were screaming or fighting me-they weren't ready to go yet. Another thing I've learnt is we chose to come back and we chose different experiences. There are different levels. On a sunny day when there's not a cloud in the sky, try relaxing your eyes. I hold on to the clothesline or you can do it lying on the sand. You see a deeper colour blue- a colour we don't see in our skies. What I'm trying to say is that there is so much we don't know about and won't find out till we have "died".

  23. mauricia says:

    Simply put…we can only solve the mystery on whether a Supreme Being exist or not .when we die…But I still believe in Divine Providence …and is guided by Faith , Hope .and Charity

  24. tim_lebsack says:

    The gaps between a grain of sand, a human being, and God are great, yet the human being is closer to the sand grain than to God.

  25. larajf says:

    I believe we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I know that's been said to death, so to speak. But I believe we created our purpose/lesson before we came down, and have free will how to achieve it.
    I believe we all have that niggling feeling in our souls of something we're supposed to face & to do. And some people want short lives, some people want long lives. Sometimes, we're down here to help other spiritual beings have an experience.
    When we love someone & lose them, it teaches us how to feel sorrow and the depth of our love for that person. It teaches us how to be empathetic & sympathetic to people going through trials, and isn't that when we shine?
    And yet, we are all out here paddling our own canoes. We are ultimately responsible for our lives and our experiences.
    So it's a complex cloth we've woven. We are our own thread, but we're together with other threads. Some are woven too tightly, some too loosely.
    And now I'm rambling :-)

    Our lives are our own to make choices based upon something we decided before we were born, and we will always be connected with the other beings whether we like it or not.

  26. Ben says:

    The American philosopher Alvin Plantinga demolished the "problem of evil" argument against the existence of a Supreme Power (At least the logical, "God cannot exist because there is evil" argument. Some now argue an evidential problem of evil – that evil shows the existence of God is unlikely instead of illogical).
    This YouTube video sums up Plantinga's argument:

  27. Dasher says:

    In Jewdism, G-d is simply referred to as HASHEM, which would be translated, as THE NAME. Why so? Because there is no more logical way to address something or someone that is so removed from our limited intellectual grasp. We are completely and utterly clueless with regard to what G-d is all about, so there is no "limited" term that can be used to describe Him/Her/It . (You get the idea)

    I'm not suggesting that one doesn't attempt to ponder the question of why Michael Press was chosen to be on the wrong side of the law of averages, as Mr. Ringer mentioned in the beginning of his article. I am suggesting however that one seriously consider that perhaps our perception is so incomprehensibly limited , that our understanding or belief of what is "wrong" in our eyes, is what needs to be seriously investigated. Simply put, perhaps we need to be open to the possibility that "wrong" according to the limited rules of fair play as we know them (would be perceived as) and are in ultimate reality nothing short of an illusion if we were privileged to have the same unlimited knowledge (whatever that means) that G-d (whatever that means) has. I guess I'm of the belief that ultimate Faith is an acceptable substitute for limited reasoning IF said faith has been acquired via limited reasoning and hence manifested itself by default as a logical and acceptable end.

    • John E. Gabor says:

      God's attributes are readily available in the Bible. If one does not wish to read the Bible to find them, there are many expositions (about God's attributes) available on the internet with cross references to the Bible. The Bible will also tell one how God "operates". There is currently a lot of interest in the Divided Kingdom – Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles – and, as always, Revelation.

  28. David says:

    To me, 'Evil' is nothing more or less than Human Selfishness.

    The whole of Life is a test of what we choose. What we choose is our responsibility alone, as individuals, no-one and no-thing else's.

    Maybe there's Afterlife, maybe there isn't. Rergardless of whether there is, the results of our choices all added together (like a vote for what we want the future to look like) push this present Life (that definitely exists) closer to Heaven on Earth or Hell on Earth even as we still live it.

  29. Mark Kranich says:

    Good discussion and thanks much for providing the forum, Robert.

    My initial reaction was that the column title posits an oxymoronic question, no?

    Beyond that, and touching on the issue of divine sovereignty and human free will, Isa 10:5-15 is a classic illustration of how God uses men's free choices. The issue is not the what but the how and that mystery is too big for my little pea brain.

    Which is why Deuteronomy 29:29 is so comforting.

  30. Miriam miriam says:

    I love these types of discussions. I find not everyone enjoys them or wants to have them. I get energized by them and need people in my life willing to go there. We are seekers.