Not a chance!

Is there any such thing as luck or chance? For example, a basketball player takes a half-court shot at the buzzer and makes it. Do you think that it’s due to chance, to the player’s skill, or to God’s will?

We can rule out chance right off the bat. As Christians we shouldn’t be in the habit of talking about chance or luck because there’s no such thing. The world is governed by God, and everything that happens can be traced in one way or another back to God’s will. This doesn’t mean that God directly causes everything to happen, as if he’s the only agent at work, the only one who is truly acting; but it does mean that everything is under God’s control.

The Westminster Confession of Faith has an excellent statement on the providence 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.

Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly: yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (Westminster Confession of Faith 5.1-2)

In other words, in any particular event there may be any one of a number of causes at work. When a basketball player makes a last second shot, for instance, he is exerting his will and effort according to his ability, developed through training and practice. The so-called laws of physics are also at work. But above, beyond, and over all is the will of God. From a merely human standpoint it may look like a lucky or unlucky shot. But from a Christian perspective, the shot goes in or it doesn’t because God either willed it or he didn’t.

What could be more random than a roll of the dice? But yet in Proverbs we’re told

The lot is cast into the lap,
     but its every decision is from the Lord (Prov. 16:33).

Consider what happened to Ahab, the wicked king of Israel. The Lord spoke through the mouth of the prophet Micaiah, who told the king that he was going to be killed in battle. Ahab didn’t believe him and went into battle anyway, and the Bible says,

Now a certain man drew his bow at random [not aiming at any one individual soldier, but aiming into the thick of the enemy] and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate… And the battle continued that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, until at evening he died (1 Ki. 22:34-35).

Lucky shot, right? Wrong. From a human perspective it seems lucky. From a human perspective the arrow seemed to hit its mark by chance. But it did so only because God willed it.

It’s true that the Syrian soldier exercised his will and put forth the physical effort necessary to shoot the arrow; it’s true that he used his best judgment under the circumstances to aim in such a way into the thick of the enemy so as to have the best possible chance of hitting someone; it’s true that the arrow flew according to the laws of physics, and that the person it hit just happened to be king Ahab; and it’s true that the arrow gave the king a deadly wound. But it’s also true that God was behind it all. He decreed that it should happen. But it came about through secondary causes.

Jesus tells us that not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from our Father in heaven (Matt. 10:29). Kings are among the mightiest of men, and sparrows among the least of animals; but neither one falls to the ground apart from the will of God. Paul tells us that God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). All things. But normally this involves a variety of second causes.

The last second shot that goes in then, is it due to God’s will or the player’s skill? Yes, both are true! The one thing we can rule out, however, is mere luck or chance, because no such thing exists.


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