What does the Bible say about luck?
Question: "What does the Bible say about luck?"
Answer: The American Heritage Dictionary defines “luck” as follows:
“1. The chance happening of fortunate or adverse events. 2. Good fortune or prosperity; success....to gain success or something desirable by chance: lucked out in finding that rare book.”
The main question is, do things happen by chance? If they do, then one can speak of someone being lucky or unlucky. But if they do not happen by chance, then it is inappropriate to use those terms. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 state, “I returned and saw under the sun that—The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favor to men of skill; But time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, Like birds caught in a snare, So the sons of men are snared in an evil time, When it falls suddenly upon them.” Much of what Ecclesiastes shares is from the perspective of a person who looks at life on earth without God, or life “under the sun.” From such a perspective, leaving God out of the picture, there seems to be good luck and bad luck. A runner in a race may be the swiftest, but because someone in front of him stumbles, he trips over him and falls and does not win the race. How unlucky for him? Or a warrior king may have the strongest army but some “chance” arrow shot up into the air at random by a no-name enemy soldier just happens to pierce his armor in its most vulnerable location (2 Chronicles 18:33) resulting in that king’s death and the loss of the battle. How unlucky for King Ahab? Was it a matter of luck? When one reads the whole of 2 Chronicles 18, you find that God had His hand in the matter from the beginning. The soldier who shot the arrow was totally unaware of it, when he shot that arrow, but God, in His sovereignty knew all along it would mean the death of wicked king Ahab.
A similar chance occurrence takes place in the Book of Ruth. Ruth, a widow who was caring for her widowed mother-in-law, seeks a field to glean grain in to provide for them. Ruth 2:3 states, “Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.” Elimelech had been the husband of Naomi, so Boaz was a relative of hers and was generous to Ruth. As Ruth returns home with a great deal more grain than Naomi expected, we find Naomi saying in Ruth 2:19-20, “...’Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.’ So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, ‘The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.’ Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!’ And Naomi said to her, ‘This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.’” So Naomi did not see it as a “chance” occurrence but as the providence of God, nor do others later on (Ruth 4:14).
Proverbs 16:33 states a general principle, “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the Lord.” This refers to the use of casting lots (similar to the tossing of a coin or the rolling of dice) to settle certain judicial cases. The case involving Achan in Joshua 7 is an example in which the principle of Proverbs 16:33 is used to find the guilty party. Proverbs 18:18 states something similar: “Casting lots causes contentions to cease, And keeps the mighty apart.” Again the idea is that God’s providence plays the determining role in the results of the casting of lots so that judicial conflicts can be resolved no matter how great their contention. Proverbs 16:33 would indicate that something as random as the rolling of dice or the tossing of a coin is not outside of God’s sovereign control. And therefore its results are not merely of chance.
God’s sovereignty involves two aspects. God’s active will or sovereignty would involve something He causes to happen such as the leading of wicked king Ahab into battle (2 Chronicles 18:18-19). Ahab’s death was not merely the result of a randomly shot arrow, but as 2 Chronicles 18 reveals, God actively directed events to lead Ahab into battle and used that randomly shot arrow to accomplish His intended will for Ahab that day. God’s passive will involves Him allowing, rather than causing, something to happen. Chapter1 of the Book of Job illustrates this in what God allowed Satan to do in the life of Job. It is also involved in the evil that God allowed Joseph’s brothers to do to Joseph in order to accomplish a greater good, a good apparent to Joseph years later (Genesis 50:20). Because we do not always have the curtains drawn back to see what is taking place in heaven, we cannot always determine whether God’s active or passive will is involved in the events of our lives but we do know that all things that take place are under the umbrella of His will, whether active or passive, and therefore nothing is a matter of mere chance. When a person rolls the dice to play a board game, God may sometimes cause the dice to land a certain way, but I would guess that more often than not in such inconsequential matters, He may allow the dice to land as his laws of nature would determine without any active involvement. But even when He is not actively involved, how the dice land are still under His sovereignty.
So it is for any event of life, no matter how small (Matthew 10:29-31) or how large (Daniel 4:35; Proverbs 21:1), God is sovereign over all (Ephesians 1:11; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 46:9-10) and thus nothing is merely the matter of chance.
From an earthly perspective, as Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 share, things may seem to happen at random, but throughout the whole of Scripture, it is clear that God is in control of all of His creation and is somehow able to take the random acts of natural law, the free will of both good and evil men, and the wicked intent of demons and combine them all to accomplish His good and perfect will (Genesis 50:20; Job chapters 1 and 42; John 9:1-7). And Christians, specifically, are given the promise that He works all things, whether seemingly good or bad, together for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
There is one other aspect that I would like to touch on. It refers to the issue of what we call “good” or “bad.” What God sees as a good thing, may not be what people see as a good thing and vice versa. How can I say that winning a prize is a good thing? If I win $25,000 dollars as a prize for being the thousandth customer at a store, is it a good thing? What if I buy a car for my son with part of it. He then takes it for a drive and crashes. Was it good that I won the $25,000 dollars? God says that He will cause good to happen in our lives when we obey His will (Deuteronomy 5:29; Psalm 37:4-5). But He knows us and the future better than we ever can. And we can trust Him to do good in our lives, even when we don’t think it is good from an earthly perspective.
Recommended Resource: Balancing the Christian Life by Charles Ryrie.
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