Charles sent me an e-mail and said, “I would really like to read your take on Chance (or Luck) vs Divine Providence.”
To answer this will involve condensing five books into 809 words. Thank you, Charles, for the request.
First, let’s understand “chance.” It deals with opportunity, accidents, random occurrences, possibilities – all without design or control by anyone. For example, I flipped a quarter in the air twenty times and let it land on the floor. I started each flip with George Washington’s head facing up. It landed heads up eight times and tails up twelve times. I ran the same experiment again, but this time I started it with the Eagle facing up. It landed heads up nine times and tails up eleven times. That’s interesting, but still, chance.
We would shift to Divine Providence now, except luck was mentioned. This goes into religion – but not Christianity.
Luck is another name for the Greek goddess Tyche; with Fortuna being Tyche’s Roman counterpart. We get the concept of good or bad fortune from the goddess Fortuna. Tyche and Fortuna are primary goddesses to whom the Greeks and Romans prayed for material blessings.
Enter The Moirae, or the Faits. These three goddesses supposedly predetermined the entire life and destiny of everyone who will ever live. That included everything the person thought, said, did, and what happened to him or her. We now call it “fatalism.”
Saint Augustine, who initially rebelled against God and believed in the Faits, eventually created a Christianized version of fatalism. He said nothing could happen without God’s specific command, and that God had predestined our entire life for us. Let’s see about this. If the average heart-rate is 70 beats per minute, God would have to stand there and specifically order each person’s heart to beat 36,817,200 time a year. Multiply that by 7,500,000,000 people in the world!
No. God sets some things in order, and commands them to keep it up.
Augustine then misapplied Romans 8:29 to support him. It says, “For whom he [God] did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son.” But Paul put the emphasis on “foreknow”; not on “predestinate.” Paul wasn’t talking about God choosing whom He will save. Instead, Paul is talking about God’s fore-knowledge of who will choose to live for Christ.
Let’s bring in sovereignty: “supreme power; freedom from external control; autonomous.” Some national governments are sovereign.
Finally, we come to Divine Providence. And that truly is God’s position. The book of Job clarifies that no one tells God what to do. God, by Himself, decides what He will AND will not do.
Providence deals with: preparation, good governance, foresight, guidance, prudent management. General Providence refers to God supporting the natural order of the universe. But Divine Providence refers to God specifically and intentionally interacting in the affairs of mankind. Therefore, we need to read carefully and understand what God said in Scripture.
James 4:2-3 says, “And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (GNT)” This 2-fold Scripture alone informs us that God requires our interaction: 1) we need to ask of God, and 2) we need to have the right attitude.
Let’s add Psalm 37:23. “The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives.” God takes pleasure in interacting with and caring for His people.
Although God sees the sparrow as it falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29), He does not mandate its death. Two of my sisters had houses that burned down several years ago, but they were not hurt. My dad died of cancer at age 89. My mother died at age 97. Another sister died of cancer at age 50. People get hurt out of carelessness. My lawn mower quit today. And sickness and death are still part of the human experience (Romans 5:14).
Does God purposely engineer all that? No; all that happens because we are part of the human family. The Bible says that death will be the LAST enemy to be conquered (1 Corinthians 15:26), so we can expect the other maladies and difficulties to continue for a while.
God does decree some of what happens in human history, but does not control or mandate every human decision. Instead, God leaves personal decisions up to us (Romans 6:12-13). Nevertheless, God does respond to prayer and can use all things that happen to us for our good (Romans 8:28).
In all that happens to us, God monitors our reactions. It is our reactions and attitudes that shape us, and prepare us for our interaction with God in heaven.