Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Chance: A Misnomer?

I love mathematics! I realize those three words classify me as a geek, strange, weird, whatever.  Nevertheless, I love math.

This does not mean I am a great mathematician; far from it. I am well-aware of my limitations when it comes to this field. My undergraduate degree is in Mathematics, but earning that degree required many, many hours of struggle. One of my graduate degrees is in Computer Science which also demanded additional math courses. Math is fun; math is hard.

For me, math became even more fun when I was called by Christ into a personal relationship with my Creator. In fact, every aspect of our education, every subject we investigate, must be examined from God’s perspective if we are to able fully appreciate it. Math is no exception. When one realizes that math has its origin in God, not in man, the subject takes on a different, far more appealing, flavor.

I have the privilege of teaching some math courses at local universities. Usually, these classes focus on Algebra. But, I have also taught a course in Probability and Statistics more than once.  For me, probability is one of the most fascinating categories of math one can study.

Probability deals in the matter of “chance”. Webster defines chance as follows:


1a: something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause.

1b: the assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings: LUCK.

1c: the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence: CONTINGENCY.

2: a situation favoring some purpose: OPPORTUNITY.

3: a fielding opportunity in baseball.

4: the possibility of a particular outcome in an uncertain situation.

5a: RISK

5b: a raffle ticket.


in the haphazard course of events.

Teaching probability demands the use of many illustrations or experiments.  Most of them revolve around flipping a coin, rolling a die, or drawing a card.  Obviously, these actions are associated with games of “chance”.

When I introduce the subject to my students, I do so with the following bullets:

·      Probability is “the chance of an event occurring.”

·      “Chance” or randomness is our perspective of certain events.

·      There are no “chance”, “random”, or “unexpected” events from God’s perspective.

   “(God) works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11b)

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

The end of Ephesians 1:11 has always fascinated me, not only as it relates to probability. You see, the verse relates to every area of life! The full verse reads as follows:

In him 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 (English Standard Version)

This is one verse in, what may arguably be, one of the greatest introductions to any letter. The end of the verse, starting with the “of him” in English, may be translated as follows:

Of the all things working one according to the counsel/purpose/plan of the will/desire of him.

While my translation is choppy in English, I believe Paul’s placement of the words rendered “all things” is designed to draw attention or emphasis to them.  The “working one” or “him who works” is a reference to God. Make no mistake; not only is God working (even now), He is working ALL THINGS for He is the “all things working one”.

What does Paul mean when He claims God works all things? What are all things? “All” does not necessarily mean “each and every”. This is true even in English. We sing the hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven.” Are we universalists? Of course not. The context of the hymn dictates a limitation on the word “all”. “When all Christians get to Heaven” is what the composer means. Sometimes, the use of “all” in Scripture is limited as well.  We must look at the context to make such a determination.

What about the context of Ephesians 1? Does “all things” mean “each and every” thing, or must we limit the phrase to some subset of things?

As I read the entire chapter, I see no reason to limit the working of God. Nothing in the passage demands such a restriction. Furthermore, the tone of Scripture overall (see the Proverbs 16 passage as an example) supports this understanding. God is working each and every thing in His creation.

Yet, Paul goes further with his Ephesian comment. God is not only working all things (even the small things), He is working them with a purpose: “according to the purpose of His will.”

God is not a haphazard being as we are. We act, evaluate the outcome of that action, revise our plan, then take further action. I can think of an example from my family’s past.

1. We plan a trip to Myrtle Beach for a week in the sun.

2. We arrive at our hotel according to plan.

3. Hurricane Bertha is forecast to make landfill near our beach.

4. We revise our plan and divert to Florida for a week.

Our plan was rudely interrupted by an unplanned hurricane. Quickly, we had to modify it and pursue an alternative destination. But, for the God who works all things, such interruptions are never unplanned. Nor, are they without purpose.

God is working all things and He is doing so according to a plan that never changes, for He never changes. His plan is never altered for it is based on His desire; His unchanging, immutable will.

I believe Paul is clearly teaching the Sovereignty of God in this text. God does all things according to His perfect eternal plan. Everything He does has a purpose. Everything occurs at the time He has decreed. He is working out all things. Yes, these things include the events of our life which we see as “unplanned”, “chance” happenings. There is no “chance” with God.

While God does everything according to His immutable, eternal plan, that does not mean we will understand what it is He is doing or why? Those are different questions for another time. However, such questions do not negate the teaching of Paul, specifically, and the Scripture in general. God is providentially involved in every aspect of the universe from the rotation of the planets to the feeding of the ravens.

So, let’s study mathematics and the field of “chance”. Let’s pull that card from the deck and determine the probability it is an Ace (1 out of 13 or 7.7%). But, let us remember, this concept is relative. “Chance” is “chance” only for us, not for God. The card we pull from the deck is the card He intended for us to pull from the deck, whatever His purpose for it may be.

Praise our Providential, Sovereign God!



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