RELIGION: Chance vs Divine Providence

Seven years ago, Charles asked me about my thoughts about chance versus divine providence. I responded and wrote about it but, based on what I've heard recently, many people still believe in chance or luck, so I want to talk about it again.

First, let's understand "chance." It deals with opportunity, accidents, random occurrences, possibilities 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 it's 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, did, and what happened to him. We call it "fatalism."

Saint Augustine, who initially rebelled against God and believed in the Faits, eventually created a Christianized version of fatalism. He said God had predestined our entire life for us. Augustine believed that nothing could happen without God's specific command and he 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 foreknowledge of who will choose to live for Christ.

Bring in sovereignty: "supreme power; freedom from external control; autonomous." And that truly is God's position. The book of Job clarifies that no one tells God what to do.

Finally, we come to divine providence.

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. My sister's house burned down several years ago, but she was not hurt. My dad died of cancer at age 89. My mother died at 97 but her memory washed out years earlier. Another sister died of cancer at age 50. People get hurt out of carelessness. My lawn mower quit and I replaced it. 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 most human decisions. Instead, God leaves personal decisions up to us (Romans 6:12-13). Nevertheless, God responds 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 because it's our reactions and attitudes that shape us and prepare us for our eternity with God in heaven or eternity in hell.

Gene Linzey is a teacher, author, mentor and president of the Siloam Springs Writers Guild. Feel free to send comments and questions to [email protected].