Headline from local paper this week: “Lyme disease on the uptick in Minnesota”.
I’m imagining the editor thinking, “See what I did there?”
Yep. We see it.
With an Infinite God, You can have it both ways. You have real free will and God is really in control of everything that happens in the universe.
Headline from local paper this week: “Lyme disease on the uptick in Minnesota”.
I’m imagining the editor thinking, “See what I did there?”
Yep. We see it.
If you want to help your friend in his twenties, say something nice about him in front of the girl he likes.
If you want to help your friend in his forties, say something nice about him in front of his teenager.
1. If you don’t interact with people on Facebook, you’re not really on Facebook.
2. It’s okay to not be on Facebook.
Right now is a good time to ask yourself – would you rather be very rich and talented or happy and at peace?
A couple summers ago, our church heard a sermon from a guest speaker, Andy Naselli, a pastor and a professor at Bethlehem Seminary. He spoke on the topic of the conscience and what the Bible has to say about it. I admit, I was surprised that the Bible had anything to say about the conscience and found the sermon helpful, enlightening and intriguing.
This week, Andy released a book on this subject (with co-author J.D. Crowley) and, given the importance of this topic, I now find myself surprised that no one has written a book like this before. Why not?
It comes down to this: In any given Christian church, any given Christian family, or any given pair of Christian people, individuals find themselves regularly differing on what is right and wrong on any number of topics.
If you think of anyone you know – no matter how close your worldview and theology is to that person’s – I’m guessing you can easily think of an ethical matter where you disagree.
Ethical matters such as –
What kind of secular music should you listen to, if any?
How much alcohol should you drink?
How should you spend your money?
How much time should you spend on Facebook? Should you work on a Sunday? Which words are swear words that no Christian should ever utter? And on and on and on. And many of them regarding subjects that the Bible doesn’t directly touch on.
You listen to your conscience about how to decide what is wrong. Your Christian brother or sister listens to their conscience. Your consciences are certain to disagree at time. Sometimes we can live and let live with that disagreement between each other. But sometimes those disagreements cause conflict. And anger. And division. In your church and family.
Wouldn’t you like to know what the Bible has to say about how to handle those disagreements? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a resource which includes a full survey of all the Bible has to say about the conscience?
You can. Read the book!
Here are some other topics addressed in this important and necessary book:
• How should you interact with your own conscience?
• How is interacting with other cultures, especially when bringing the gospel to these cultures, affected by cultural differences in consciences?
• How are unbelievers affected by their consciences and how should you interact with them?
• What does Paul mean by “strong” and “weak” Christians and how should they relate with each other?
• What does it mean for a conscience to be seared, or clear, or defiled, or perfected, or purified or missing?
I encourage you to get a copy, read it and use it in pursuit of God’s glory and the good of others.
By the way, with the Facebook question, the correct answer is ‘no more than 11.75 minutes a day.’
As I’ve been communicating with people about Luck, as a result of conversations I’ve had about my three previous posts, no fewer than four people have mentioned the Vern Poythress book Chance and the Sovereignty of God.
So by the time I’d put up the third post, I’d read the first 100+ pages (I’ve since read more), and I’ll say this – It’s a Biblical, smart, helpful, informative and necessary book that I almost completely agree with.
I’ll also point out this: Mr. Poythress believes in chance. I should qualify- In the beginning of chapter nine he shows the two definitions of chance from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:
1 a : something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause b : the assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings : luck.
He confirms his belief in the first definition: “The examples that we have previously discussed, from the Bible and from modern life, conform to this description”
But he rejects the second: “This definition includes the assumption that some events are “impersonal” and “purposeless” in an absolute sense. In other words, the definition implies that God is not involved and that he is not in control. Chance in this sense does not exist.” He later calls this Chance with a capital ‘C’.
I agree with all this. Indeed, I tried (and apparently failed) to make this clear in my previous posts.
But then he says something that I think is overly broad – “There is no such thing as luck.”
He doesn’t explain this statement or give any defense of it.* But he says this, I think, because he assumes, wrongly, that the meaning of luck associated with Capital C Chance is the only kind of luck and that it’s the only way that people refer to luck.
It’s regrettable that he didn’t look at the first definition of luck in that same dictionary, which is “the things that happen to a person because of chance : the accidental way things happen without being planned”.
This is luck associated with the first definition of chance – the one he agrees with. And I think this is what people mean when they say they were lucky. I would encourage anyone to check this out the next time they hear someone say they were lucky.
Specifically, ask them “By lucky, do you mean an assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings caused you the fortunate thing to happen, or do you refer to the accidental way things happened without being planned?”
I’m pretty sure they’ll more readily agree to the latter.
It comes down to this – as I said in my last luck post, you shouldn’t use Luck as a predictor or something you can manipulate. But if by luck, you mean the way lower-case-C chance (which Dr. Poythress says is a biblically reasonable concept) plays out in a person’s life, then you’re fine.
* Although later in Chapter 14, he discusses the misuse of luck and chance by means of gambling, superstition, and good luck charms. Again, I agree with his premise that these practices are foolish and often sinful.
Four short stories illustrating the checks the New Testament puts into place to prevent a slippery slope.
Story Number 1
A Christian in the young church in Corinth has finally been able to convince his friend, Jonas, to come to a church meeting. The friend has been expressing dissatisfaction with the Roman gods and temples. They arrive and find out that a letter has been sent to their church by the Apostle Paul, a founder of the church, and a portion of it will be read aloud. Jonas is very interested to see what this leader has to say. He’s listening and finding the expressed theology to be very intriguing and compelling, especially as the content turns to sexual purity and marriage.
He hears –
“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.”
And he thinks, “Yes, very good. That’s as it should be. Theonica will hear this message when I get home to her. She’ll have to -”
But then he hears the reader say –
“Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
Jonas does not explain himself to his friend as he stands up and quickly excuses himself, even as the reader continues to finish the passage. It should be obvious. By Jove, my body is not my wife’s! That’s ridiculous. She is merely a woman, after all.
He didn’t go back.
Evelyn, a twenty-year old woman greets her friend Ruth at the door and invites the older woman into the small bedroom in the community home she lives in. It is a religious community, where it is Evelyn’s work to do laundry ten hours a day, six days a week. The older man who leads their sect demands obedience and subservience, but Evelyn states with a weak smile that she is happy. Ruth notices a blue crescent moon tattooed on Evelyn’s wrist and the young woman covers it up quickly with her sleeve.
They speak at length, sitting on Evelyn’s bed, but Ruth mostly listens and asks questions. After some time, Ruth finally pulls out a writing and says, “My brother Timothy, who is a pastor, received this letter from a wise church-planter named Paul a few days ago. He has let me read it and I asked him if I could bring it and read a small part of it to you. Would that be okay?”
The younger woman nods hesitantly and then listens as Ruth reads –
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
A few minutes later, with Ruth’s help, Evelyn started packing.
The Jewish basket weaver has a surprisingly good sitting place to hear the new teacher as he preaches about the Kingdom of God from the top of a hill, but his heart is closed. He doesn’t want to hear about the meek and merciful, and he’s not interested in how great his sin is.
And then he hears –
“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart,”
– and he thinks, “That is nonsense. I have not committed adultery! One of two things are true – either God is fine with me looking on the form of a woman to my own pleasure, assuming I don’t touch her, or the woman should cover herself so that her form is not visible. If it is right there in front of me, God will not hold me responsible when I look, no matter what my thoughts are. A just God will hold her, and her alone, responsible for the thoughts her body provokes.”
He slipped down the hill and away from the foolish rabbi.
The man holds in his hands a scroll copied from a letter from one of the Son of God’s own disciples. It is an honor for him, new to the church and the faith, to be able to take these writings home and read it in the days between Sabbaths. So he is reading. The words move and motivate him. And then he reads –
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
And he stops reading. He feels a stabbing in his soul. He puts his face in his hand and he weeps.
Yesterday he hit his wife. She had something insufficiently honoring to him and he had put his hand across her face. It was his right as Husband.
Today he hasn’t had the courage to look at her fully, but he is afraid there’s a bruise on her cheek. He feels the weight of his error.
He steps into the other room and finds her, the one he loves, and she sees that he has been crying. He repents before her and God and states (truthfully) that he will never touch her violently again. They cry together. She forgives him. God forgives him.
He took her hand and together they went back and found the scroll and continued reading it together.
Egalitarian or Skeptic, do not fear that following the New Testament’s teaching about the differences between men and women will lead to the mistreatment of women. God has seen to it that this won’t happen for the one who is truly seeking His Word to know His Will.
Young man, old man and husband, God has written for us how we are to treat women in and before Marriage, which is an ancient picture of our relationship with God. If we defy His Will in these matters, we defy His Gospel.
If you’re trying to stop a tank, using a weapon that only dents the outside won’t work against the machine or those it’s carrying. A man wielding a BB gun might chip the paint or put a ding in the metal, but the guys inside the tank will only care if you blow a hole in it or stop it from functioning.
God’s transcendence, glory, eminence and worth is, like His Gospel, so diverse and expansive that no human can focus on more than a very little of it at once. So it is like a buffet – you must choose what you are going to think about, dwell on, consider, be thankful for. You can’t eat it all.
“Esther, wake up! You must hear what I have to tell you!”
She woke to the sight of her anxious friend Rebekah and the full memory of her brother’s status.
And she quickly saw that Rebekah had bad news. “What is it?”
“They are crucifying Silas!”
Five minutes later, having dressed quickly, Esther was running, running towards the place of the Skull. She feared what she was about to see more than anything she had feared in her life. But she had to be there. She had to see him. She had to … she couldn’t let him be alone.
She knew it was going to be horrific and it was. Even from a distance, she could see the blood and the torn flesh and she could hear strong men screaming. And then she could tell that one of the voices was Silas. Screaming words of pain and anger and cursing. And then, just as she was nearing, she could see Silas looking with recognition at the crucified man on the middle cross and … laughing? A hollow, horrid, false laugh.
“You’re … you’re the teacher”, Silas said, laughing again in between gasps, laughing without smiling, “the new Rabbi that travels about,”
With shock, Esther saw that it was true. Under the blood and bruises, it was the teacher. It was Jesus. How could …. How? Why would they crucify Jesus?
Silas wasn’t done. “You tell happy stories about Yahweh and His Kingdom!”
She could see that Silas couldn’t say very many words without having to stop to push himself up to catch his breath. And she could see that he wasn’t done. “Silas, don’t”, she whispered.
“Stories about the Kingdom of the LORD … He’s our loving father!”
It was obvious that it hurt for him to talk, why did he keep going with this hate?
He was yelling now. “What do you know, Teacher? … What do you know about this kingdom?”
Another gasp, another painful breath, and he continued. “I see you know nothing! You pretend to be one with God and you end up on a cross! With me!”
And then he coughed and hatefully laughed and twisted and screamed. “You know nothing! This is the way of all things!”
The teacher looked at him. Silas looked away, saw Esther, looked away and screamed again. Esther cried for a long time.
And then she heard a voice, a calm voice. A voice that was in pain: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Esther looked up at Jesus. He was looking down at the men who had done this to him. The Romans soldiers looked stunned and slightly shaken. The Jewish leaders looked angry and full of spite.
One of them yelled, “If you are the chosen one, the Christ of the God you pray to, save yourself, as they say you’ve saved others!”
Esther watched as Silas looked at the leaders, and then back to Jesus. And he stared long at Jesus, with eyes that seemed determined to comprehend.
Soon the Jewish leaders were leaving, and as they walked passed Esther, one of them spoke bitterly, “He says it’s us who needs forgiveness!”
After they’d passed, Esther looked up and saw her brother still staring at Jesus. What had happened? The hate and anger in his eyes were gone. Now there was just grief and pain. And … shame.
A few moments later, Esther saw that one of the priests had lingered. He was standing a few feet behind her, lurking, unsure of himself. He too was staring at Jesus. He wasn’t gloating or angry, like the other leaders. He seemed confused, frightened and sad.
Minutes passed. The men on the cross gasped, groaned and bled. They were dying. Esther could see there was not much strength left in her brother.
Sometime later the third crucified man, the one on the other side of Jesus, grimly and weakly spat out, “If you’re the Savior, … do us a favor. Do like the priest said. Save yourself … and us!”
Esther could see that this man was no believer. His words were spiteful, aimed to wound. She was surprised that he would utter such foulness.
But she was stunned by the next words she heard: “Are you seeking God’s wrath? You and I both know that this man hasn’t done anything to deserve to be here. But we have. It is right that we are here. Not so this man.”
It was her brother. She couldn’t have hoped for a stronger confession. She put her face in her hands and slumped to the ground as he stopped talking and gasped and vomited and wept. The priest who had been standing behind her, stepped next to her and put his hand on her shoulder.
And then her brother said something truly ridiculous: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom?”
Was he insane? Jesus is just. How could Silas think he could deserve that? How could he dare to make such a request.
And then Jesus said to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
And now it was the priest who gasped, took his hand off Esther and dropped to the ground next to her. He was reeling with one hand on the ground, whispering, “How …. How could that be? How can he say that?” But Esther could see that there was no doubt in this man. She guessed that he believed Jesus, he just couldn’t comprehend the words he’d just heard the teacher say.
And then Esther looked up from the priest to her brother and saw a sight that made her gasp with delight. Silas was smiling. A true, relieved smile of peace on her brother’s face even as he gasped for air.
“Amen,” Silas whispered. Esther looked at Jesus with thankfulness.
Silas’ smile was still there when he stopped breathing a few minutes later.
And as Esther walked away and down the hill with the priest who was whispering praises to Yahweh, she experienced hope again. Perfect, Gospel-driven Hope.
The man in this story gets just a few verses about him in the gospels. I thought I’d propose a version and a filling out of his story from the perspective of someone who loved him. Neither Silas nor Esther are the well-known Biblical characters.
The Thief’s Sister – by Scott Jamison
“Silas… Silas! What can be done? There must be something we can do!”
“Sorry, Esther,” replied Silas, and she could see the fear in her brother’s eyes, despite his false brave sobriety, “I’m pretty sure that there is nothing to be done. I’m cursed by this cursed city and it will kill me.”
He was lying on his back on the wood slab in obvious discomfort, opposite the bars she was staring through. He looked horrible.
“Someone made you do this. Someone tricked you into stealing from those poor people on the road.”
“No, Esther, it was my idea. It’s been my idea these three years. And he wasn’t poor. Do you think I’d be so foolish to try to rob a pauper?”
Esther had feared this, of course. For years she had seen his cruelty growing, his lack of love, his worship of earthly things. Each time she’d found ways to explain it to herself, but her heart told her quietly that there was no use – Silas’ heart was black and getting blacker.
And now there was legal proof of its darkness. Not a half hour earlier, the guard had grimly described Silas’ most recent victim. The man had lived, she thanked the LORD for that – at least Silas wasn’t a murderer, but … apparently the victim was now half blind. And perhaps he would always need a cane. Silas had beaten him, he’d beaten him for his money, and so the guard had enthusiastically beaten Silas. The guard had told her this with words that were neither proud nor ashamed.
Esther looked away from her brother. It was impossible to fathom: She couldn’t call the Roman guard unjust for beating her brother, but she could call her brother wicked for beating the man he stole from.
As she looked back at him, she saw that he was staring at her, still grim, and she guessed that he had a good idea what she was thinking.
“No, Esther, the man I took from, the man I damaged – he was rich! He was a tax collector. He still is a tax collector. And they don’t need the use of both eyes to take what doesn’t belong to them. He’ll be well enough!”
Now he was yelling. Yelling past her so that others would hear: He was unrepentant. He was defiant.
“So, no, sister, I wasn’t tricked into doing these deeds. And it can’t be that big of a surprise for you. I haven’t laid a hand on you, but you’ve seen what I’ve done with Jeremiah.”
Yes, she had. Their younger brother had more than once cried out for mercy that Silas rarely had given him. Jeremiah wanted nothing more to do with Silas.
“I’m going to die, Esther. It’s your lot to live with that. You should go. The city has deemed that I must be punished. That is the way of it. Amen.”
Amen? She looked at him, so angry and … sullen. When he was young he used to smile. It had been ages since she’d seen him smile.
She left him. She cried as she left the cell, the prison and the city.
As she walked towards her home, she passed the spot on the road where, she’d been told, Silas’ last crime had taken place. It … what did it remind her of? Something good. Something pleasant. Ah, yes, she thought, and she smiled and then winced as she remembered more deeply.
A victim lying on the side of the road, a result of highway robbery. It was just like the story she’d heard the new teacher tell the children. A man was beaten and left for dead, and the church leaders had ignored him, and the stranger had saved him. But in the real life story, she realized with horrified shame, her brother wasn’t the Good Samaritan or the victim. He wasn’t even the unloving Pharisees. No, he was the violent and greedy robber.
He was the villain of the story.
There was no hope. She would lose him. His mind was dark and evil, she loved him and she was going to lose him forever into darkness.
Just recently, she had felt hope. She’d learned about hope as she’d listened to the teachings of this Jesus as he preached near their family’s village. She’d seen him do miracles. She’d heard good news from him.
If …. no, it was impossible. But – her mind pressed on into the impossible possibility – if she could find a way for Silas to hear the teacher… maybe he would … turn from his sin? See the path to a better way? Repent and find hope?
Tomorrow she would search for the teacher. She continued home. Some rest and then she’d look for him and find him.
“Esther, wake up! You must hear what I have to tell you!”
She woke to the sight of her anxious friend Rebekah and the full memory of her brother’s status.
And she quickly saw that Rebekah had bad news. “What is it?”
“They are crucifying Silas!”
Five minutes later, having dressed quickly, Esther was running, running towards the Place of the Skull.
I assume you’ve guessed who Silas is. Or at least you’ve narrowed it down to two.
Please go read the conclusion of the story.
Here are a few clarifying comments:
0. One primary reason for these posts is I’m hoping to see if there are any good arguments against what I’m saying. If someone could show from the Bible that chance does not exist, then I will change my mind and change these posts. I will also amend these posts if someone can show that parts of them are wrong.
1. I don’t know Greek or Hebrew, so if anyone wants to show me how I’m greatly misinterpreting the Bible passages because I’m not looking at original languages, I’d be very interested.
2. I have much more to say and I could have fleshed out my point to a much greater extent. But I’m trying (some might add ‘and failing’) to keep these posts somewhat succinct.
3. In preparation for writing these posts, I’ve read “Not a Chance” by R.C. Sproul and “Not by Chance” by Layton Talbert.
Sproul writes at length about how chance cannot exist as an acting causal entity. I fully agree with this. Indeed, I don’t know of any person who disagrees with this. He certainly didn’t quote anyone with this opinion.
He also states unequivocally that if chance exists then God can’t. But he doesn’t defend this statement using logic or the Bible – which is somewhat interesting given he writes quite a few paragraphs (just a few pages later) defending the idea that, logically speaking, a cat doesn’t have eight tails.
Talbert’s book is a great resource and defense of the sovereignty of God. It also denies the existence of chance and luck several time, but, again, nowhere does it give a reasoning for this denial.
4. Perhaps you’re thinking that ‘fortune’ is a reasonable replacement for Christians to use in day to day discussion. My response is two-fold: 1. What do you think is the difference between Chance and Fortune or Luck? I think they are nearly congruent. Look it up, it has “luck” in the definition. But 2. Unlike “luck”, “fortune” is a word that I’d be hesitant to use (having looked in a concordance), seeing how the Bible treats that word.
I’m thinking that at some point it might be wise for me to write a whole post about the word Fortune.
5. I’ve heard that some people, including at least one pastor, say that Luck is four letter word. Why the hate, I wonder?
6. I’ve heard people eschew the word “Potluck” and prefer “Pot-Blessing”. I’m in total agreement. When people gather and bring their best dishes that everyone can share, it’s not luck that the resulting food is enjoyable. I’ve never failed to be blessed at a Potluck.
7. Luck as a curse
Another definition of Luck is: The force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person’s life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities:
With my luck I’ll probably get pneumonia.
I agree that a Bible-centered worldview (or logic) doesn’t allow this way of using the word Luck. If luck really is chance, it makes no sense to use it as a predictor.
8. In the Harry Potter books, most of the characters will not speak the name of the evil Lord Voldemort, sometime calling him “He Who Must Not Be Named”. He’s very real, and everyone knows it, but they fear to the word. I feel like there are some who treat the word Luck like this; it’s potentially real, but to use the word will do some intangible harm so they have to find more palatable, and less helpful and accurate, ways of referring to it.
9. If you hit five red lights in a row, it seems reasonable to say you’re unlucky and chance has gone against you. If you’ve hit five green lights in a row, it seems reasonable to say you’ve been lucky and chance has favored you. It’s not going to kill you (or harm God’s reputation) to admit this.
Update: I just added a post called The Two Kinds Of Luck.
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.
The Case For Luck – A Compatibility of Chance and the Sovereignty of God
Redeeming A Concept Often Loathed By Reformed Theologians (and Other Evangelicals).
Here we go: Imagine a conversation between two Christians.
Peter: I was running late for the big meeting, but then I got five green lights in a row, and made it in time. Boy, was I lucky!
Jim: No, you were blessed!
I imagine many of you have heard this kind of interchange. Because evangelicals (especially of the reformed variety) are not supposed to believe in luck, right?
What if I were to make this bold statement: Luck exists. How would you respond to that? Because I’m open to the possibility.
Here I should put up a working definition – and this is how I think most people use these terms: Luck (or fortune, or chance) is how immediate results that are unpredictable work out in a person’s daily life.
If a person has good luck (or good fortune,) it means that uncontrolled things went well for them in the immediate situation, when they could have gone poorly. Good has happened to you by chance.
If a person has bad luck (or they are unfortunate) it means that uncontrolled things went poorly for them in the immediate situation, when they could have gone well.
Or if you like – here’s the helpful definition from Dictionary.com: a combination of circumstances, events, etc., operating by chance to bring good or ill to a person
But if a person in today’s evangelical church says to another (sincerely), “Good luck!”, they may be met with, “What? Don’t you believe that God controls what happens to people?”
What follows are four reasons why I don’t understand this line of reasoning.
1. ‘Luck’ can’t be replaced with ‘Blessed’ (or any other word) in Christian vocabulary
Let’s look at another hypothetical conversation –
Peter: I was on time for a really important meeting today, but then I hit five red lights in a row, and walked in late. Boy, that was unlucky!
Jim: No, you just weren’t blessed!
Right? If the evangelical replacement for ‘luck’ is ‘blessed’ then it should correspond this way.
But would anyone respond this way? I don’t think so, because (1) it’s not very nice, and (2) it isn’t true. It may be that God is blessing someone through an annoying set of red lights.
Or how about this very unlikely conversation where Peter is, presumably, not a Christian, and Jim is one (or at least believes that God controls things).
Peter: … So I was running from four cops after robbing a bank and shooting some guards and I ducked into an alley and came to a place that had five ways out. I ran into one of them and hid and the four cops all went different ways but none of them came towards me. So I got away! Boy, was I lucky!
Jim: No, you were blessed!
Here the correspondence fails again. What word would you use to describe Peter’s scenario? Again, I think it’s luck.
Now there are some who feel that the fact I’m a five-point Calvinist (of the No-Maverick-Molecule variety) should preclude this opinion about the existence of luck or chance. They might feel my (very real and sincere) belief in the sovereignty of God runs counter to an openness to the possibility of the existence of luck. They might say – ‘if luck exists in any measure, then God can’t totally be in control.’
Quite the contrary – it’s my Calvinism that makes me more open to this possibility. Because, like many (most? all?) Calvinists, I also believe in free will, another concept that naysayers often claim to run against the idea that God ordains all things occurring in his universe. They (Arminians, libertarians) say ‘if true free will exists in any form, then God can’t totally be in control’.
And we say, No, the Bible demonstrates both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of Man. So even though it’s difficult to comprehend, they must both be true.
See the parallel?
[By the way, if you don’t believe in free will (or if you think Calvinists are crazy), you can probably stop here and do a google search on ‘Compatibilism’ and read what wise minds have to say about those much more important issues]
Chance (Luck, Fortune) might correspond to free will. If we believe in the possibility that God somehow made free will coexist with his total sovereignty, we should be open to the possibility that he built a universe where chance exists. And if this is theologically and biblically possible, (or hasn’t been clearly described in the Bible as impossible), shouldn’t you be nervous to say it’s impossible?
In my next post, I’ll be (3) considering the Biblical basis for the belief in Chance and (4) why it’s not harmful (and may be beneficial) to talk about human experience in terms of luck.
If a sentence’s meaning is not changed when you take out one of its words, then that word is probably redundant and should be taken out.
I’m putting this up not because it’s original or new, but to get it off my brain.
On Truth and Helpfulness
A. The Basics
A1. There are statements that are always true.
A2. There are statements that are sometimes true, depending on definitions and points of view.
A3. There are statements that are always (or almost always) true, but often are unhelpful or even harmful.
A4. There are statements that are a spinning of the truth, but are nevertheless helpful.
A5. There are statements that are always false.
It is wisdom to be able to differentiate between these five kinds of statements. A wise person will put some thought (particularly when speaking to a grieving person) as to which category his words will land in.
B. To that end …
B1. It is not the case that all true statements are helpful. Many can harm.
B2. If you’re talking to a person in crisis, it’s quite possible that a statement that is usually true is not true for them. People in crisis are often exceptions. (Example: You should obey people in authority)
B3. Not all seemingly helpful statements are true.
B4. Saying a false statement is almost always unhelpful in the long run.
C. Considering helpful and unhelpful statements, there are two kinds of people:
1. Those who need to be pushed forward or spurred on (i.e. people who can be best helped by encouraging them to move forward and do more)
2. Those who need to be shown grace, rest, peace (i.e. people who would be best helped by encouragement that they are okay where they stand, at least with respect to the life issue at hand).
C1. This is why there is danger in giving blanket statements of encouragement to large groups of people.
C1B. (So discernment and grace should be employed by the listener)
C2. This is why definitions and disclaimers are often necessary.
C3. This is why seeking first to understand is often necessary. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
So – two examples (I’ve recently seen on Facebook):
Example 1. “God will never give you more than you can handle”
The truth or falsehood of this statement is almost entirely determined by your definition of the phrase “what you can handle”. I assume, for example, that when people say this, they imply the phrase, “with His help” on the end. Or, “If you’re a Christian” at the beginning. Given these additions, this statement is generally true.
But it is also often unhelpful and sometime harmful. I wouldn’t recommend it from a person whose life is fairly easy to a person who is in crisis.
Example 2. “Everything happens for a reason”
In the worldview of Calvinists (and many Arminians), this statement is generally true. But I’d be hesitant to say it to someone who is going through a divorce or the loss of a child.
D. Regarding the response of the listener (even a listener who is in crisis)
D1. When the person talking to you says something unhelpful, consider his/her intent.
D2. Does she mean well?
D3. Is there truth in what he said?
D4. If you’re listening to someone speaking to a large group with advice that doesn’t apply to you, are you an exception? Is what he’s saying generally applicable?
D5. God calls for grace from the speaker as well as the receiver.
E. Now with a mind towards the more spiritual and eternal, consider:
E1. The Gospel, told correctly, is always helpful.
E2. Nevertheless, it’s possible to share the Gospel unhelpfully.
E3. While a person’s primary reason for sharing the Gospel is to help another person move towards salvation by glorifying God, there are other good reasons.
E4. Among them are encouragement and exhortation (I leave the others as an exercise for the reader).
E5. There are also bad motivations for sharing the Gospel.
E6. Among these are brow-beating and pride (I leave the others as a second exercise for the reader).
E7. If your motivations for sharing the Gospel are bad, don’t stop sharing the Gospel. Rather, find better motivations. You can do this by being “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Included in “the will of God” is what you should say to your friend.
And included in “testing” is giving a few second thought before saying it.
“I might be doing it for the wrong reason,” is a bad excuse for not doing the right thing.
Yesterday my seven year old did what Donald Trump couldn’t: Say “2 Corinthians” correctly on his first try.
If you’re giving a presentation to a large group of people and, at the end, ask if there are any questions, don’t assume it’s a good sign if you don’t get any.