During casual conversations, the phrase “Good luck” may be used. I have heard both believers and non-believers use it, but have you ever stopped to consider the biblical basis for it? This article is my attempt at helping to summarise and explore in a bit more depth the appropriateness for believers in being more diligent and taking care with the words we use.
Words have power and meaning. This point was made in a recent sermon by guest speaker Rev Julian Holdsworth (Wycliffe) at Clayton Church. It was probably one of his more minor points, but it stuck with me. Over the years, I have not thought too much about the phrase “Good luck”. After all, we tend to use it when wishing someone well and are hoping that they succeed in their endeavour, or whatever it may be that is yet to transpire.
The concept of luck, according to the dictionary has three definitions associated with the noun:
- success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions
- chance considered as a force that causes good or bad things to happen
- something regarded as bringing about or portending good or bad things
The key question here, when understanding and considering “luck”, is that there is an element of chance, probability and uncertainty. Therefore, in order to legitimise the use of “luck”, believers must consider if events can transpire by chance? Is there a possibility of an event happening or not happening? If those possibilities exist then misfortune and fortune, or bad luck and good luck are legitimate terms for use by believers. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 states:
I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
In order to understand the context of this passage, and indeed much of the book of Ecclesiastes, the reader should observe that the author is in fact writing of the scenario where life on earth is absent of God or “under the sun”. It is in this context that life contains the elements of luck – good and bad.
Indeed, there are numerous stories which describe events that we could attribute to fortunate circumstance. Consider the story of Joseph – instead of killing him, his brothers took advantage of the Egyptian slave traders, who took Joseph to Egpyt as a slave. Was it fortune, or God’s favour that foresaw how these events would transpire and ultimately bring about reconciliation amongst brothers? Similarly, when we read stories like Ruth and Naomi – that Ruth happened to select a field to glean which turned out to be belonging to Boaz, was that chance or divine providence?
Proverbs 16:33 gives us a very clear indication of how God is the ultimate decision maker – directing the way fortune or misfortune is handed out:
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
Proverbs 18:18 further reinforces God’s sovereignty over the casting of lots:
Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.
It is the Jewish belief that God’s hand is upon the outcome of casting lots which ensures that they abide by the outcome – God has spoken through the lot being cast. The sovereignty of God has two dimensions – His active will and His passive will. We are witness to God’s active will when we see various events falling into place such that the outcome has been actively planned and engineered. The story of Samson can also be interpreted as another example of God’s active will – though Delilah was successful in deceiving and defeating Samson by convincing him to share the secret Nazarene source of his strength in his uncut hair, God still engineered it such that Samson gave of his life to defeat many more Philistines in death.
God’s passive will is clearest in the story of Job, where God allowed others (Satan) to actively engineer events. In this way, God is not the cause of an event, but is instead permissive of the evil allowed to be perpetrated. The story of Joseph is another example of where God allowed the initial acts perpetrated by his brothers to transpire, but God’s sovereignty was still honoured in the way Joseph rose up from the ashes to become second in charge over Egypt, and the final redemption and reconciliation of the family.
In contrast, there is the Christian theology of predestination, which is the belief that all events have been willed by God. Extrapolated out, this theory suggests that God has already decided who will end up in heaven versus who does not. Predestination thus creates a point of controversy in that God created us in His image, to have free will. With free will, there is the freedom for us to make decisions. However, before I delve too deeply into the separate topic of predestination, the point I will make here is simply that if we believe God is ultimately in control, He can cause events to come together such that His divine purpose can be achieved.
To know when God’s active or passive will is at work is near impossible whilst we are in the midst of the events unfolding, let alone constrained by our earthly perspective of the world. It is only when we reflect upon the past events when we may be able to discern and perceive God’s hand at work – actively or passively. Often, God will probably give us great freedom since we do have a will of our own, and allow us to dig ourselves into the holes we find ourselves in, only to turn events around such that He reminds us of His sovereignty. So, whilst we may think that the events of our lives are a series of good or bad luck, God is ultimately sovereign and in control.
John 9:1-7 illustrates the point as told directly by Jesus (verses 3 to 5) and then affirmed by His actions taken (verses 6 -7):
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
Romans 8:28 is also very clear:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Being a Christian is not about having an easier life. In fact, Jesus was clear that to follow Him meant to take up the cross on a daily basis. Christians also suffer and indeed, over the pages of history, have been persecuted – the latest attacks perpetrated by ISIS/the Islamic State in Iraq are no exception. However, as believers, we are called to trust and have faith in God that He will be glorified above all else. We are called to praise Him and rejoice no matter whether misfortune or favour is upon us. To think in paradigms of luck – good or bad – is therefore not consistent with the attitude and mindset the bible teaches. In all things, honour God and give Him the glory.
I will end this article my sharing the lyrics to one of Hillsong’s recent songs which doubles up as their 2013 worship album because Glorious Ruins is a very beautiful and God-inspired celebration of these teachings.
When the mountains fall
And the tempest roars You are with me
When creation folds
Still my soul will soar on Your mercy
I’ll walk through the fire
With my head lifted high
And my spirit revived in Your story
And I’ll look to the cross
As my failure is lost
In the light of Your glorious grace
(So) Let the ruins come to life
In the beauty of Your Name
Rising up from the ashes
God forever You reign
And my soul will find refuge
In the shadow of Your wings
I will love You forever
And forever I’ll sing
When the world caves in
Still my hope will cling to Your promise
Where my courage ends
Let my heart find strength in Your presence