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Destiny Versus Fate

David Cowles

Jul 15, 2024

“Your Destiny is the Fate of others; the Destiny of others is your Fate.”

Destiny and Fate are two words I hardly ever use. They seem to suggest a passivity that is alien to my philosophy…and perhaps to yours as well. But whenever I have used them, I’ve used them interchangeably…and I was wrong!

Far from being interchangeable, Destiny and Fate are antonyms. And for just that reason, they turn out to be very useful concepts after all! Destiny is what you make of yourself. Fate is what the world makes of you. 

I was destined for greatness: “I could’ve been a contender,” but  sadly, that was not my fate. The World, i.e. the collective other, had its own agenda and alas that agenda did not have room for my ‘greatness’. 

We all seem to have an almost insatiable desire to be ‘someone’, to be ‘something’, to make a difference, to leave the world a better place, etc. We each have our own Destiny. I am the author of my own ‘play’, the World is my stage and you others are, I might as well admit it, my props. So go on, hate me! It’s ok.

Of course, you ‘others’ have your own destinies to fulfill, and potentially at least, I am one of your props. I’ll agree to be your prop if you agree to be mine, Valentine! So we’re both telling the same story, but in one version, I play the lead and in the other version, you do. 

Your destiny is not who you are, since you are never any thing; it is the self you choose to project into the world. It’s ‘you’ as you’d like to be remembered a billion years from now, give or take. As if!

You control your destiny. If you don’t control it, it’s not your destiny, it’s your fate…over which you have no control. Destiny is what you make of yourself; Fate is what the World makes of you! 

Destiny comes from Latin meaning ‘to make firm’. Destiny is the stand you take against the World. It is the judgment you execute on the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12: 12). It is your mark, your footprint in the sand, your ripple on the surface of the sea.

Fate comes from Latin meaning ‘that which has been said’. Pilate: “What I have written, I have written.” Fait accompli. Les jeux sont faits (Sartre). 

A black hole is ‘empty space’ with a dimensionless singularity at its center; 100% of its information content is located on its event horizon. You are a black hole! You are Neant (Sartre); your destiny is your event horizon. It is the information you ‘broadcast’ (Whitehead: “superject”) into the World. 

I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (fate), the courage to change the things I can (destiny), and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Ah, wisdom! A slippery commodity, that one. The entire psychopathology of everyday life traces back to ‘wisdom’. Trying to alter things that cannot be changed (fate) can lead to depression, resentment, anger, and addiction. In extreme cases it can be symptomatic of psychosis, narcissism, megalomania, and solipsism. 

Failing to alter things that can be changed (destiny) is a symptom of laziness, cowardice, etc. It can lead to anxiety, rage, and a loss of self-worth. In extreme cases it can be symptomatic of neurosis and nihilism. Destiny is what you do to the world; Fate is what the world does to you.  Your destiny is the fate of others; the destiny of others is your fate.

Coming to be begins with not-being – not being what is. Sartre: “I am not what I am.” Before you are, you are not – you are not what is! You execute judgment by comparing what is to what could be. You judge by contrasting certain eternal values with present reality.

In a theological context, I offer God my destiny; he gives me back my fate. Falling back on a cliché, “Man (sic) proposes, God disposes.” How does this play out in the secular realm? Well, take me for instance (c. 1492). I set out to live my life according to my Destiny: I set sail for India.

I ended up in the Caribbean. Of course, I made a hash of things there too, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice to say, when I review my life, I find I am most ‘proud’ of things I did without intending to do them and most ‘ashamed’ of things I did (or failed to do) intentionally.

I struggle against my fate; perhaps I should welcome it. Perhaps God does know better than me after all. In rare cases, God may reveal your Fate to you and ask you to make it your Destiny. “Get on the same page!” That was Mary’s experience at the Annunciation; her famous acceptance speech is called her Magnificat: “If nominated I will run, if elected I will serve.” 

It was also the experience of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, John the Baptist, Paul of Tarsus, et al. However unwilling, they accepted their Fate and made it their Destiny; they did God’s will. 

You’re no Jeremiah and you certainly aren’t the Virgin Mary – not by a longshot. Yet in his Letter to Ephesians (2: 10), Paul (above) suggests that this is an experience available to all of us: “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance that we should live in them.” 

Language plays an important role here. In English, for example, the Active Voice is well suited to propositions (sentences) concerning Destiny while the Passive Voice is better when talking about Fate. But this exposes a fundamental problem!

Historically, the Indo-European (IE) language family had three verbal voices: Active, Passive, and Middle. In modern IE languages, the Middle Voice has almost disappeared. Where it is retained (e.g. Icelandic) it has atrophied. But a fully functional, vibrant Middle Voice could tell us a lot about the relationship between Destiny and Fate. 

Trapped in the Active/Passive dichotomy, Destiny and Fate are seen to be in conflict. “My freedom ends at the tip of your nose.” But St. Paul  (Eph. 2: 10) introduces us to a scenario in which Destiny and Fate work together, dialectically, to reconnect Self and World. This relationship cries out for a vibrant Middle Voice!

We know how to struggle/fight/compete against others. We know how to live in a bi-polar world. But do we know how to love one another? How to work together to achieve common ends? How to harmonize the destiny of one with the destinies of all

What do Utopia, the Garden of Eden, the Kingdom of Heaven, and Pepperland have in common? They are states of being in which Destiny and Fate are one.

Revelation tells us that Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. He is the point at which Destiny and Fate converge. According to Euclid, the ‘parallel lines’ of life do not intersect, ever. According to the better geometer, St. Paul, all lines intersect: at Alpha and at Omega


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at

purpose and devotion.


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