3. The Biblical Basis for Luck.
In the previous post, I developed an explanation for the possibility of the existence of luck or chance. Here is some Biblical evidence for that possibility. Please note that I’m not stating that these Bible passages must force all theologians to believe in Luck, just that they should encourage Bible believers to be hesitant to say unequivocally that luck or chance doesn’t exist.
I’ve heard it said that the word luck isn’t anywhere in the bible. Agreed.
Obviously, we’re not going to find ‘luck’ in the Bible. It’s a relatively new word ( Dictionary.com says its origin comes from the late 15th century), and it has a slang feel to it, so translators might avoid using it even if it was the best word. But ‘chance’ is a different matter. And ‘chance’ is indeed in the Bible. Five times.
I think we can disregard two of them (one has a different meaning – Hebrews 12:17 – where it is meant as ‘opportunity’ and one – 2 Samuel 1:6 – where the speaker was potentially lying). But the other three are key and are from important sources – Luke, Solomon and Jesus.
Consider Acts 27:12, where Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes, “And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix …”
On the chance. Their future was unknown. They were hopeful to make it. The odds weren’t great, but there was a chance they could reach their goal.
But someone will say, “They weren’t rolling the dice. God was in control of what the boat was doing.” Agreed. But I think it’s fair to say they were hoping for the chance that what they wanted would happen.
One might also say, “It doesn’t say explicitly that Paul and/or Luke agreed with this worldview”. Correct, nor does it say they disagreed with it.
Or look at Ecclesiastes 9:11 – “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”
Time and Chance happens to us all. But someone will say, “Oh, this was in the bitter parts of Ecclesiastes”. So you are saying that all of what is said here can be safely assumed to be false? I would be hesitant to say that.
What about when Jesus is talking? Look at Luke 10:31, where our Savior is in the middle of the Parable of the Good Samaritan: “Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.”
This part of the story happened, according to Jesus, by chance.
I can foresee two rejoinders to this evidence: (1) He’s telling a parable. You can’t use that as evidence. Really? Why not? As far as I can see, the universe of Jesus’s parables inherently and by nature corresponds to ours. (2) Jesus was joking. He wasn’t being serious when he said it happened by chance. I agree that it’s easy to imagine a small smile* on his face as he said this, but is it safe to assume the Great Storyteller was describing the situation wrongly assuming that everyone who heard it would understand that he was making a little jest?
Please take a look at Ruth 2:3.
So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.
Have you considered the word “happen”?
Here’s the dictionary definition: happen – to come to pass by chance; occur without apparent reason or design:
I can’t help but notice that when the translation committee translated this verse, they didn’t write …
And she just happened to come to the part of the field belong to Boaz,
And she “happened” to come to the part of the field belong to Boaz,
No, they wrote that “she happened to” come there. By, you know, chance.
Do you know what else happened to happen?
“Absalom happened to meet the servants of David.” (right before he died) 2 Samuel 18:9
And “there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite.” (who caused a rebellion) 2 Samuel 20:1
So as you read these passages, assuming you believe in the inerrancy of scripture, here’s your trilemma: either (1) you agree that these things happened by chance, (2) you think the translators got it wrong, (3) you think they were describing it this way facetiously or sarcastically. Choose you this day. But if you choose #3, you should make sure you have a biblical reason why.
As for me and my … self, I think I’m not a heretic to believe that number one is at least possible.
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The wind blows where it wishes. Is this statement true or false? If you think it’s just poetic language then (1) Why do you think that? (2) What do think Jesus is trying to convey through the poetic language?
By the way, when Pastor John Piper spoke on this passage, he entitled the sermon “The Free Will of the Wind”. That’s what I think chance might be: The free will of the universe (but obviously not a libertarian free will!)
The Lot and The Heart
Now some of you are thinking – what about Proverbs 16:33?
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. – Proverbs 16:33
I’m fond of this verse. Because there are two things happening here: 1. The lot is cast and 2. Its decision is from the LORD.
If you think only one thing is happening (the LORD part), then I wonder if you’ve read all of Proverbs chapter 16. Only 24 verses before 16:33 it says –
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9
Do you think only the LORD part is actually happening in this verse? Do you think that the heart of man is not really planning his way? Again, if you think Free Will can exist in some real way, why do you disregard the possibility that chance does?
4. The Ethical Basis For Believing In Luck
You might be thinking, “But … why?”
Why would you want people to think or talk as if luck exists? What’s the benefit?
You might further be thinking that talking about luck will make it sound like you don’t believe God is in control. Please note that every concept of luck that I’m presenting is from our perspective, not God’s. And, again, do you think that it undermines the view of the sovereignty of your God to talk about free will?
Now I’m not of the mind that the statement “This concept makes people act poorly” logically leads to “This concept is false”. But I acknowledge that some true concepts can be harmful when used in the wrong situation. Thinking along those lines …
Maybe it’s time for you to consider the possible downside in some settings of saying you’re blessed.
When a person says, “I’ve been so blessed” and they’re heard by others who don’t feel as blessed, it might sound like he (the blessed person) has pride in the good things they’ve gotten. Or that God is on their side. It might sound like their blessing was earned or merited. And a person who is going through trials might reasonably ask, “Why not me?”
There is much less danger of this when a person says, “I was lucky.” Luck isn’t earned. Luck has more to do with grace or mercy. It didn’t have to be that way. It necessarily wasn’t a result of good works done by the recipient.
So when you hear a world famous secular person say something like this …
“I was preparing for my craft, but I was lucky even before I was prepared… I think, more than anything else, I’ve been lucky.”
… (as “Harrison Ford*” has said in describing his success), you think, “if he’s sincere in this statement, he’s being pretty humble. He’s not claiming success because of how great he is.” And this kind of humility can be veiled in a successful Christian who will not use the work Luck. To say you’ve been lucky doesn’t diminish God, it diminishes you.
One of the aspect of traditional Compatibilism that I appreciate most is how it raises up our understanding of God. Any being that is able to create (and be sovereign over) a creature that is nevertheless responsible and possesses free will is a Being far above and transcendent over those of us who’ve been created by Him. The very fact that this facet of our God (described by so many passages in His Word) is so difficult to comprehend should secure our honor, praise and reverence.
And if God’s sovereignty over free creatures causes us to worship him, wouldn’t the idea of a God who created a world where chance and randomness exist, yet is still fully under his sovereignty – where a whole universe under his complete control enjoys an element of freedom … shouldn’t that cause even more reverence and worship?
* As a compatibilist, I think it likely that it was both: Jesus was injecting a bit of humor AND describing it how it was.
** And I think it’s fair to say he was pretty lucky. If he hadn’t been chosen to be Han Solo and Indiana Jones, which pretty much came down to George Lucas liking him, his stellar career almost certainly wouldn’t have happened.
Update :: Here are some extra thoughts, clarifications and disclaimers on this subject.