Chance would be a fine thing!

Just read the latest update from Matthew Hosier’s blog. He has been reading PJs blog too and thinking about the sovereignty of God. He makes the helpful point that there is no such thing as luck. He also includes an interesting quote from a guy called Abraham Kuyper (Wikipedia tells me he was prime minister of the Netherlands between 1901-1905) who wrote about Calvinism:

Abraham Kuyper

Card playing has been placed under a ban by Calvinism, not as though games of all kinds were forbidden, nor as though something demonical lurked in the cards themselves, but because it fosters in our heart the dangerous tendency to look away from God, and to put our trust in Fortune or Luck. A game which is decided by keenness of vision, quickness of action, and range of experience, is ennobling in its character, but a game like cards, which is chiefly decided by the way in which the cards are arranged in the pack, and blindly distributed, induces us to attach a certain significance to that fatal imaginative power, outside of God, called Chance or Fortune. To this kind of unbelief every one of us is inclined… To fear God, and to bid for the favours of Fortune, seemed to Calvin as irreconcilable as fire and water.

I suppose you could play cards with faith: Trusting in God’s goodness to you in making the next card an ace! “I trust you Lord, so I’ll put £100 on black“. I guess that sounds a bit silly, and I’m not being entirely serious, but it’s not half as foolish as looking at the events of my life, past and future, as if I am at the mercy of chance. I wonder how much of my life I see by default as luck rather than God’s sovereign control. If my default position was that God was in control, I wonder if I would be more inclined to approach a game of chance as a fight of faith.

A more plausible reason we don’t see snakes and ladders as a fight of faith is because winning isn’t that important or even the main aim. It’s the taking part that counts. That is such a hard concept to get across to children:

“Let’s play a game. The object is to win but we are not really playing to win just for the fun of playing, but try to win, just don’t be too sad if you don’t win, because we are not playing to win. In fact it’s good to be happy if someone else wins and be pleased for them. Say ‘well done. Thank you for the game.’ But try to win or the game won’t be much fun”.

Another perspective on chance is that God has created a world where it looks like randomness is at work because that is part of the beauty and order of his creation. If I knew enough I’d say something clever and relevant about quantum theory but I don’t so I’ll just mention it in case there is a link here! I’m sure it’s something to do with chance and statistics operating under the apparently deterministic Newtonian laws. So when we are playing snakes and ladders perhaps we are really enjoying quantum theory (or even chaos theory, small changes in initial condition and all that…)! This view would say that chance was just as beautiful as a dance or a sunset so when we are betting we are paying to appreciate chance. Would that make your local high street betting shop a kind of art gallery?

I think the bigger danger in games of chance is if money is involved. You are really dicing with death when you bet money on a random outcome (unless you are so Godly or prophetic you are operating in raw faith:-). There can be something very toxic about the combination of chance and money. Having said that joining in the office world cup sweep stake didn’t seem that deadly and I lived to tell the tale.

Speaking of chance and randomness, evolution is no more flawed because it uses a concept of chance than quantum theory. It may be challenged on other grounds but not because it involves an apparently random process. God is always sovereignly working through everything. He doesn’t take a back seat when DNA recombines any more than he does when I toss a coin. He is the one working through all things such that we get normal, poisson, and Chi-square distributions.

So what about genetic diseases? It’s the same challenge we face with God’s sovereignty and sickness or God’s sovereignty and sin. Ultimately I don’t know why God doesn’t stop sin or doesn’t stop evil but I know he works through it for good and that keeps me from despair in the face of the things I see and hear. It also provokes my faith when I pray for things to happen to which I could attach a very low probability. So what if only two people out of several hundred have ever been healed when I prayed for them. This next person is going to get well because God is sovereign!

The practical answers in this realm are clearer than the systematic answers. God is sovereign so I trust him to work all things for the good of those that love him. He has told me what his kingdom looks like so I pray and act to see that come about. It’s like I am on a rope being pulled out of this dark and deadly world. I may get cut and scraped along the way but at least I have hold of the rope and know I will come though it and be rescued. The question then becomes why not rescue me another way? I have to trust him that he is rescuing me and others in the best possible way.


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