Wednesday, May 6, 2009

5/6- Providence vs Luck

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Prov. 16:33)
But as for you who forsake the Lord and forget my holy mountain, who spread a table for Fortune, and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword.” Isaiah 65:11

Calvin: We must know that God’s providence, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous happenings. Now it has been commonly accepted in all ages, and almost all mortals hold the same opinion today, that all things come about through chance. What we ought to believe concerning providence is by this depraved opinion [providence is] most certainly not only beclouded, but almost buried. Suppose a man falls among thieves, or wild beasts; is shipwrecked at sea by a sudden gale; is killed by a falling house or tree. Suppose another man wandering through the desert finds help in his straits; having been tossed by the waves, reaches harbor; miraculously escapes death by a finger’s breadth. Carnal reason ascribes all such happenings, whether prosperous or adverse, to fortune. But anyone who has been taught by Christ’s lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered [Matthew 10:30] will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan. And concerning inanimate objects we ought to hold that, although each one has by nature been endowed with its own property, yet it does not exercise its own power except in so far as it is directed by God’s ever-present hand. These are, thus, nothing but instruments to which God e(c)continually imparts as much effectiveness as he wills, and according to his own purpose bends and turns them to either one action or another. (I.16.2)

Providence stands in contrast to two things both deterministic in nature: luck and fate. What is luck? Is luck a god- as the Greeks, Romans, or Hindus would say? Some say luck is just a way to describe things as out of our control. Mathematicians may talk of luck in terms of statistical probability. Freud spoke of luck as a way that we avoid responsibility. Carl Jung spoke of synchronicity (which is a kind of secular providence). Many live their lives in the light of luck. They do certain rituals (the way they walk, or the order they do things) or avoid certain actions in an anti-ritual (don’t walk under a ladder, avoid opening an umbrella inside, keep that black cat from walking in front of you). Calvin was very much against the superstition in his culture and the superstition in the church (with relics, repetitive rituals and prayers). Instead Calvin was for trusting God from the heart. He made the human heart or human spirit and the Holy Spirit the ways that God softens providence from our earthly perspective. From a heavenly perspective providence is not a cold luck or spiteful fate, but direction by and in God’s love. God’s love can even be shown to us in the hard times and the bad circumstances. To believe in good luck is to take praise away from God. To believe in bad luck is to downplay God’s ability to pull us up and see us through, and squelches the opportunity to deny ourselves, carry our cross, let God mold us, and draw closer to Him.
God does not treat us as sticks and stones, but governs the world in love. Calvin, in speaking about those who thought God ruled the world through perpetual law or fate said, “Nothing would excel the misery of humans, than if we were exposed to all the perpetual motions of the heavens, air, earth, and waters” (I.16.2). Calvin saw that God included in his foreknowledge and providence our actions, reactions, and also our prayers and His answer to our prayers. It is not a cold fate, but an interactive providence.
In our day in the United States, we seem to have fallen away from trust in scriptures, trust in God's providence, and the historic faith. But the more we fall away, the more superstitious we become. I remember Dr. Leith once said, “We have traded our belief in angels for a fascination with vampires and the extra-terrestrial. Which is better? “ The more we fall away from Christianity, the more we tend to read horoscopes (once an anathema to the people of God) with their emphasis on having your fate determined by the movement of the heavens. Also, the less we trust in God’s providence, the more we tend to trust in fate or luck. Which would we rather believe? It might be a good day to examine the ways we are looking to luck and fate versus looking to God’s providential hand to protect us, govern us, and guide us.

Prayer: Lord, help me to trust in you. Lead me in right paths whether through the valley or the mountain. Strengthen my ability to trust in your love for me.

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