Faith, Assumptions, and Matters of Chance

Mayfield, Kentucky tornado damage

Photo by Dave Malkoff – Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Christians are people of faith. The Scriptures are very clear that it is “impossible to please [God]” without faith (Hebrews 11:6), that we cannot obey the gospel without faith (Mark 16:16), and that we are “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1). More than anyone else, we should recognize not only that God exists, but that He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

At the same time, while God has the power to do more than we could imagine, the Scriptures also indicate that there are times when things happen as a result of chance or happenstance. The wise man wrote, “I saw again under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). When a race, battle, or some other event turns out unexpectedly, that does not necessarily mean that God was directly involved in the outcome. The wise man did not say that “the hand of God” or “the will of God” produced the unexpected result; rather, it was due to “time and chance” which God allows to happen in this life.

As I am writing this article, clean-up and recovery efforts are ongoing following a tornado that went through Bowling Green, Kentucky (and several other areas). Many homes and businesses were destroyed. Several people lost their lives and many more have been deeply impacted by losses sustained in the storm. Thankfully, our family was out of the path of the tornado. However, not far from us there were people who lost everything.

Following events like this one, it is natural to wonder why some were spared and others were not. Why did some lose all of their earthly possessions – or even their lives – while others suffered little or no damage? Was this simply a matter of chance or was it something more? As we contemplate questions like these, it is important that we understand the difference between conclusions that are matters of faith and ones that are simply assumptions.

The passage we noted earlier indicated that God does allow “time and chance” to affect people in this life (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Understanding the difference between faith and assumptions will help prevent us from jumping to unwarranted conclusions and enable us to learn valuable lessons from these events.

The Reason Why Some Suffered Loss

When natural disasters happen – especially ones that cause a significant amount of damage and become a national news story – there are many who wonder if the disaster was an act of divine judgment against a group of people, community, or nation because of some sin by the members of that group or community as a whole. Interestingly, Jesus addressed this very idea in commenting about two news stories in His day.

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1-5).

While the Scriptures are filled with instances in which calamity came against a nation as a result of God’s divine judgment, Jesus’ comments make it clear that this is not the cause of every calamity. In fact, the examples in the Bible when God was executing judgment against some people show that God announced the judgment ahead of time.* Therefore, those who heard the prophecies containing these warnings would not have been surprised when the calamities took place. We can safely conclude, based upon Jesus’ comments, that there was no divine warning given beforehand that Pilate was going to kill some of the Galileans or that a tower was going to collapse in Siloam. Natural disasters today would fall into the same category. Therefore, we should not jump to the conclusion that God must have been executing judgment against the victims of that catastrophe.

However, there are lessons to be learned from these disasters. This was the reason why Jesus brought up the two current events of His day. Rather than concluding that the ones who were killed must have been worse sinners and, therefore, were receiving divine punishment, Jesus told those who were listening, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). The lesson we need to take from such tragedies is that life is short; therefore, we need to take time now to make sure our lives are right with God. If there is sin in our lives, we need to repent of that now while we still have the opportunity to do so.

The Reason Why We Were Spared

Another common reaction to a natural disaster – especially for those who were fortunate enough to avoid the losses that others suffered – is to wonder why we were spared. Often, those in this situation will assume that God must have had a reason for sparing them; therefore, He must have some purpose that He wants them to fulfill now that they have avoided the calamity that others faced. Consider the following message sent to Queen Esther from Mordecai.

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:13-14).

Haman, one of the chief officials under King Ahasuerus, had devised a plot to destroy the Jews. When Mordecai learned of this, he sent word to Esther. Even though she was also a Jew, she had become queen; so Mordecai informed Esther of the plot so she could “go in to the king to implore his favor and to plead with him for her people” (Esther 4:8). Initially, Esther was reluctant to do this because of the danger for anyone – even a queen – who would approach the king without being summoned by him. Yet because she was in her position, Mordecai knew that she was in the best possible situation to help. So he encouraged her to act and asked the question, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, ESV). He did not know whether God was behind her ascent to royalty or not; but he knew that since she was in that position, she needed to take advantage of it. He was also convinced that whether Esther acted or not, God’s purpose would be accomplished, even if it meant deliverance arising from another place.

Mordecai’s question – “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” – is often cited by Christians as “proof” that God was behind some series of events or favorable situation that produced for us an opportunity to do some great thing. Yet the passage is actually making the opposite point. Without direct divine revelation (which, from all that is revealed in the book of Esther, Mordecai did not have), there is no way to prove that God arranged particular outcomes to unfold in our lives. Therefore, since we cannot prove this, we simply need to do what Mordecai advised Esther to do – recognize the favorable position in which we find ourselves and use it to do what we know will be pleasing to God and bring honor to Him. The lesson we need to take when we are spared from such calamities is that we ought to be looking at whatever situation is before us, recognize the opportunities that we currently have, and use the abilities, resources, and positions we have been blessed with to do things that would glorify God.

Conclusion

We certainly do not want to limit God in whatever He may choose to do. At the same time, we do not want to presume to know what we cannot know. As we noted at the beginning of this article, Christians are people of faith. Paul made it clear that the source of faith is the word of God (Romans 10:17). Therefore, rather than making assumptions about matters of chance, let us respond in faith by recognizing what the word of God teaches about the uncertainty of life and the responsibilities that each one of us have as individuals to do the will of God in whatever circumstances unfold before us.

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*For more on this point, see the point titled, “Divine Act of Judgment” in the article, When Disaster Strikes.


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