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.

2. Compatibilism
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.