Luck or Providence?

How many times have you wished somebody luck? People do it all the time. For instance, we wish people luck before big exams, athletic competitions, or job interviews. But why? What is luck anyway? Should “luck” even be a part of the Christian’s vocabulary? The Oxford English Dictionary defines luck as “good things that happen by chance” and “chance considered as a force that causes success or failure.” I suppose it is the “chance considered as a force” that leads people to wish others luck before a big game or to “knock on wood” when someone mentions something that may cause a disturbance in the “force”, hoping to sway the powers of luck in the right direction. The problem with this language and behavior is that it conforms more to the wisdom of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi than to the wisdom and Word of God.

Contrary to the idea of luck is the biblical doctrine of divine providence. Christians do not believe in luck, but in the sovereign, eternal purpose of God carried out by His almighty, providential hand (read: Holy Spirit). To our finite minds it may, at times, appear that things take place randomly or by chance. But this is the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, according to scripture, nothing takes place by chance ... nothing. The Apostle Paul, in the book of Ephesians, states that in Christ “we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” (Eph. 1:11) The Westminster Confession of Faith provides a great definition of providence, elevating the sovereign majesty of God:

“God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” (WCF, V. i)

We see only tiny sections of the mosaic that God is piecing together. This is precisely why we are called to trust in God and His precious promises. (Proverbs 3:5-6) As God’s redeemed children, we do not place our hope in the forces of luck or chance, but rather, in the purpose of God to “work all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Here we are taught that God’s providence brings both good and bad circumstances into the lives of believers. However, all of these circumstances ultimately work together for good. Joseph underscored this truth when he told his fearful brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20a)

John Calvin (1509-1564) took the time to comment on the difference between luck and providence in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, a passage worth reading:

“ ... we must know that God’s providence, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune or fortuitous happenings. Now it has been commonly accepted in all ages, and almost all mortals hold the same opinion today, that all things come about through chance. What we ought to believe concerning providence is by this depraved opinion most certainly not only beclouded, but almost buried. Suppose a man falls among thieves, or wild beasts; is shipwrecked at sea by a sudden gale; is killed by a falling house or tree. Suppose another man wandering through the desert finds help in his straits; having been tossed by the waves, reaches harbor; miraculously escapes death by a finger’s breadth. Carnal reason ascribes all such happenings, whether prosperous or adverse, to fortune. But anyone who has been taught by Christ’s lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered [Matt. 10:30] will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan. And concerning inanimate objects we ought to hold that, although each one has by nature been endowed with its own property, yet it does not exercise its own power except in so far as it is directed by God’s ever-present hand. These are, thus, nothing but instruments to which God continually imparts as much effectiveness as he wills, and according to his own purpose bends and turns them to either one action or another.” (Calvin’s Institutes, I. xvi. 2)

Perhaps a little more contemplation of the biblical doctrine of divine providence would serve to change the way we think and the way we communicate. Moreover, our anxiety levels would drop and our comfort levels rise, knowing that our covenant-keeping God is steadfast and immovable, and always working things together for the good of His redeemed children. Of course, this includes failing economies, unemployment, persecution, disobedient or wayward children, illness, etc.

Dear members and friends of Christ Church, let us not be overcome with fear in this present evil age. Rather, while boldly attempting to be salt and light in the Church and in the world, let us prayerfully and dependently trust in the goodness and purpose of our blessed heavenly Father.

Pastor Jon