Luck and The Will of God

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Ask any Christian what they think about luck and you are likely to hear an answer like this, “We make our own luck.” But do we really? And what does the Bible say about luck? It says nothing actually. The word does not even appear in any translation that I have been able to find. I have found many instances of the word, chance, however. Here’s one: “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them…” ~ Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

What is luck if not a chance or random event? And if a chance event should be beneficial, would we not call that, “good luck” in the vernacular of today? If a chance event should befall some misfortune upon us, would we not call that, “bad luck?” And if God should be responsible for all things, sending the proverbial rain to fall on the righteous as well as the wicked, then we are faced with the hard reality that God either causes bad things to happen to good people, or else He passively allows it.

Here’s an example of what I would call, bad luck. You, a good person… mostly, are driving down the road, minding your own business and obeying all the rules of the road. Suddenly — BAM! A driver behind you, distracted by texting on his cell phone while driving, plows into your rear-end. You have just become collateral damage, a casualty of someone else’s bad choice. It was an event that God did not make happen, or maybe He did. We cannot know. But we do know that God did not prevent it from happening.

Here’s an example of what I would call, good luck. You, a typical male teenager, engage in your first sexual encounter, going “all the way,” unprotected, with a young lady who welcomed your advances, actually encouraged you. Weeks later, she informs you that she thinks she’s pregnant. You and she, scared out of your wits, commiserate with one another and postpone telling your parents. Then, a few days later, she tells you that she has miscarried. Did God intervene or was the miscarriage a random, natural event? We cannot know. But you are relieved and thank your proverbial “lucky stars.” Hopefully, you have learned your lesson.

Bible stories suggest that God’s will is manifest in three different ways: His intentional will, His circumstantial will, and His ultimate will. See Leslie D. Weatherford’s book, The Will of God.

God’s intentional will “for us,” according to Jeremiah 29:11, is that we should all prosper, that we should not be harmed, that we should have hope and a future. But why, why did He create us? The Bible makes this clear in Isaiah 43:7, God created us for His glory, God’s glory not ours. Therefore, both His “greater” intentional will and His ultimate will is simply to be glorified. Unfortunately, God’s intentional will for us sometimes has to be sacrificed due to chance events and, of course, our own poor choices. This is God’s circumstantial will. It involves Him passively allowing, rather than causing, something to happen. Chapter 1 of the book of Job, even though most biblical scholars consider Job to be a fictional or parabolic character, 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 not apparent to Joseph until years later (Genesis 50:20). So we have at least a partial answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people.

Does God ever intervene with the randomness of His creation or to circumvent the negative consequences of our poor choices? Sure He does. That is what we believe, and that is why we pray.

I have previously written about events in my life that I choose to call miracles. See A Tale of Two Miracles in The World According to Opa. In one of these two events I wrote about being Hepatitis-C positive and living  for years with the certain knowledge that I would one day start to display symptoms. I had anticipated having to undergo expensive therapies with uncomfortable side-effects in an attempt to thwart the inevitable, a protracted, painful death like the one my mother had had to endure. I prayed for God to take that cup away from my lips. Then, one day, God answered my prayer. Either that or I just go lucky. I became one of about 25 percent of Hepatitis-C infected individuals to spontaneously convert.

After the divorce from my first wife was final, I opened a letter from the local draft board. “Greetings,” it said… I was being ordered to report for an induction physical. I knew that I would pass the physical and, although I had anticipated that this would happen when filing for the divorce, I considered myself to be a most unlucky fellow. Timing was the problem; our country was in the midst of war in Southeast Asia. American casualties over there were mounting. The news every night was filled with frightening videos: helicopters delivering soldiers into the heat battle, bleeding bodies on stretchers being flown back to rear area aid stations, pictures of flag draped coffins being unloaded back stateside. So I anticipated my odds of surviving combat in the jungles to be only even, fair at best. Besides, I had the best job at that time that I had ever had. I was a TV cameraman for a local television station. I loved that job and I hated having to give it up. I had a new girlfriend too – a couple of them in fact — and a new car. Damn! But my induction into the Army turned out to be a long-term blessing, a blessing in disguise. Oh, I did have to experience combat in Vietnam – eventually.  But not before I had become a commissioned officer in the Army, not before I had learned to fly helicopters, not before I was trained to be an aircraft maintenance officer – a maintenance test pilot. So I dodged the worst of the war. My only year in Vietnam was a relatively quiet year. The worst year, 1968, the year of Tet, was over. During the two and a half years of training before my year in Vietnam, I met my current wife too – the mother of two of my three sons.

1967 and 1968 were the worst years for soldiers in Vietnam. Some of my flight instructors, Warrant Officer pilots who were serving state-side tours of duty between combat tours, prepared us as best they could for the horrors that we would soon face – horrors like red and blue streams of tracer bullets rising up to meet us when on short-final approaches to combat landing zones – horrors like the sound of bullets piercing the thin skins of our utility and gunship helicopters – horrors like watching others’ helicopters crashing and burning next to us – horrors like broken and bleeding bodies of soldiers being piled onto cargo floors behind us for evacuation, some of them still crying out in pain. After graduating from flight school and taking my turn over there, I’d have known a full share of these horrors. But I got lucky.

A week or so before graduation, some of us got amendments to the original orders assigning us to duty in Vietnam with helicopter flight school reroute. Some of us would go on to transition training in either Cobra gunships or in cargo helicopters like the big Chinook. Rarely, some of us would go to fixed-wing transition. Some of us, myself, and the future Best Man at my wedding, Marvin Adams, and another whose name I do not recall, were sent to Aviation Maintenance Officers’ Course in Ft. Eustis, Virginia. Marvin and I were there for twelve weeks while most of the rest of our flight class of commissioned officers was experiencing the worst weeks of the war. The officer who flew right seat with me in a Huey on our graduation formation fly-by flight, Johnny Benton, lasted only three weeks in Vietnam. He took a 50 caliber bullet to the head during one of his first in-country combat assault missions.  I read his name one morning in the Army Times obituaries among other class members’ names. Week after week more class members’ names were listed.

I did not know Johnny well during our time together in flight school. I got to know him much better after he died because I wrote to his parents. Their address was listed in the Army Times. I don’t know why I chose to write to them and not to others from my flight class, others that I had actually known better. But I did. I gave them my APO address so that they could write back to me should they want to. A few days after reporting to my unit in Vietnam, the Aviation Battery of the 101st Airborne Division’s Division Artillery, a half dozen letters from Johnny’s mother were delivered. Each contained a packet of KoolAide. Each week after that, like clockwork, I got another letter from her with another packet of KoolAide. Johnny had written to her asking her to send him some because, as she told me in a letter, he had said in his last letter to her that the water he had to drink tasted terrible. Those letters from Johnny’s mother were a blessing to me. I hope that her writing to me, and my brief answers, were a blessing to her too.

After returning from Vietnam, I married — the right woman this time, one of a few that I had dated while undergoing flight training. The ladies loved me while I was in flight school, and why wouldn’t they? I was still young, I was free every night of the week, I wasn’t too-bad-looking, an Army officer who had plenty of money to spend and who owned a new white Corvette – one with red interior. Luck struck again when, after a year, the Army offered to move me to attend any accredited university, so as to finish my undergraduate degree, and the Army approved my degree plan too: geography. I loved that subject, love it still. I was paid all pay and allowances, even my flight pay without having to log the obligatory minimum of two flight hours a month. The Army paid for my tuition and books too. In my spare time, I earned a commercial fixed-wing pilot’s license, flying friends and family members around to complete the required cross-country hours involved. This was paid for with Vietnam Era Veterans’ Benefit dollars.

During Advanced Field Artillery Officers’ Course, to which I was sent after graduating from my university under-graduate degree program, I completed a Masters Degree in Business Administration. I was sent to the Advanced Course because I was then too senior to return right away to Vietnam for a second tour. Luck? Maybe, or maybe it was just the way unforeseen events unfolded. I and a handful of other Field Artillery officers at Ft. Sill took advantage of an Oklahoma City University extension course to earn our masters degrees. This too was paid for with Vietnam Era Veterans’ Benefit dollars.

I learned a great deal about working with and leading others during subsequent Army assignments – to flying and various Field Artillery ground assignments at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, a flying and command assignment in Korea, flying, command and staff assignments in Germany, and analyst, test design and test director assignments in materiel acquisitions in Washington, D.C. All of this contributed to a rewarding career servicing engineering and materiel acquisitions contracts for DoD clients and later, teaching high school students in geography and economics courses.

Call me lucky or call me blessed. Either way, it matters only whether you believe in God or not. I do believe in God and I think that I’ve been some lucky and a whole lot blessed. Did I make my own luck? Sure, some of it. I made some good choices that enabled me to take advantage of chance opportunities. But, on the whole, I believe the following passage from scripture best applies: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”                ~ 2 Corinthians 1:20

 Please feel free to post a comment or a question.

 

 

Published in: on August 3, 2017 at 7:06 pm  Comments (1)  

The Purpose of Life

God’s command to subdue the earth means for us to have mastery over it, all of it. But true mastery of anything cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding of the thing to be mastered. With the authority to rule comes responsibility, the responsibility to rule well.

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“He who dies first with the most toys wins!” Maybe you’ve heard this once-popular saying, maybe not. Maybe you laughed when you first heard it. If you’re old enough, maybe you saw it on a bumper sticker back in the 80s and laughed. If you did laugh, maybe you thought, “Well, hell, what else is there really?”

This saying is a quote originally attributed to the flamboyant millionaire, Malcolm Forbes. Forbes was an American entrep- reneur who was prominently known as the publisher of Forbes magazine, a business that he inherited from his wealthy father. He was also known as an avid promoter of free market, laissez faire capitalism. He was known too for an extravagant lifestyle, for throwing large, expensive parties for his wealthy friends, for travel and for his collections of homes, yachts, aircraft, art, motorcycles, and Fabergé eggs.

Forbes’ quote serves to sum up the attitude of people like him, people who tend to be more hedonistic. They see life in terms of opportunities for self-indulgence, for pleasure. Me first, they think, my family and friends next – all who serve me, care for me, comfort me, and those who pleasure me. To these types of people, everybody else is just a potential friend/ally or a potential adversary /competition. True hedonists like Forbes believe that this is the highest good and proper aim of human life. I whole- heartedly disagree. I’m a Christian. I am also a Democrat.

I taught a lesson to second graders today. The subject was biodiversity – a compound word, I taught my students – the first part, bio, meaning life, the second part, diversity, meaning many different kinds. The lesson wasn’t really about life; it was about learning to learn. It was about having an open mind, learning to think critically, learning how to compare and contrast. The lesson included an exercise:  comparing and contrasting two different life forms, animals and plants. Yes, second graders are smart enough for this kind of learning, and they’re able to grasp these ideas if the information is presented to them in ways to which they can relate.

I shared with my students how, when I was in school, it was believed that all solid matter was either animal, vegetable or mineral – it was believed that there were only two kingdoms of life: animal and vegetable. Today, I told them, scientists recognize six different kingdoms of life. Life on earth is truly diverse.

A hand went up. “Yes,” I said, recognizing the student.

“What is life, Opa?” I like it that the students in the class I visit on a regular basis call me Opa. It’s what my grandchildren call me.

I might have been thrown off by this question, a deeper question, one that most would not expect a second grader to ask. But I came prepared. I knew how smart, how inquisitive these students are. So I had thought about it ahead of time, I did some research.

“What do you think life is?” I asked the student.

“A gift,” he said, using a rising voice inflection suggesting a question rather than an answer. I surmise that this is something he had been told by a parent, a pastor or another teacher.

“Yes,” I said, “I believe that life is a gift too, one to be treasured, one to be used to good purpose. But that doesn’t truly answer the question scientifically, does it? Are there any other ideas?” I asked. None were offered, so I endeavored to explain.

“It turns out,” I began, “science now believes that solid matter is either organic or inorganic. Organic matter is that which contains compounds including the carbon element. Compound, remember, is a word that means something made up of more than one part, like the compound word, biodiversity. Solid matter that does not contain carbon compounds, like rocks, cannot be alive. But not all organic matter is alive either. All of it either is or once was alive though. Live organic matter has purpose, its primary purpose, is to survive long enough to reproduce, to create new organic material. Organic matter which is not now alive has a purpose too; it feeds organic matter, either directly or indirectly, which is now living. Think of compost, decaying organic matter which we use to feed our garden plants. Think of worms, insect larva, and scavenger birds feeding on the carcasses of dead squirrels and other small animals.

So,” I told my students, “the scientific definition of life is this: It is a transitory state of organic matter, a state in progress of change during which new organic matter is created. This,” I told my students, “is the cycle of life.”

While my students were thinking about this, processing it, I moved on to the exercise, the compare-and-contrast part of my lesson. We focused the rest of our time talking about the similarities and differences between plants and animals. And this, their answers, assured me that they understood how to think critically. I hope they will continue to think critically for their entire lives.

After returning home, I got to thinking about part of my lesson, that part having to do with life, specifically the part about the purpose of life. Is that all there is, I thought, surviving long enough to reproduce? For some forms of life, sure, but, no… surely not for higher forms of life, surely not for humans. I turned to the Study Bible online and found this explaining the famous passage in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: 19For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust21Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?

Hold on, didn’t God set man apart from the other animals, gave us dominion over all the earth? That makes us special, does it not? Yes.

The word dominion means to rule or power over.  God has sovereign power over His creation and has delegated the authority to mankind to have dominion over the plants and other animals (Genesis 1:26). King David reinforces this in Psalm 8:6: “You made [mankind] rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.” So humanity was meant to “subdue” the earth (Genesis 1:28 to hold a position of command over it; we were placed in a superior role and we are to exercise control over the earth, its flora and fauna.

God’s command to subdue the earth means for us to have mastery over it, all of it. But true mastery of anything cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding of the thing to be mastered. With the authority to rule comes responsibility, the responsibility to rule well. There is an inherent accountability in God’s command to subdue the earth. Therefore, we have a collective responsibility to learn all there is to know about the earth, its occupants, and our place in the cosmos. We have a collective responsibility to protect and defend the environment.

The word, subdue, doesn’t necessarily imply violence or mistreatment. It can also mean “to bring under cultivation.” It can mean “to love and take care of” and that is the meaning I believe is conveyed in God’s Word. Therefore, understanding its true meaning, we are to be stewards, good stewards, of God’s creation. We are to love ourselves, love our neighbors and all of creation. That is our purpose. That is our greater purpose. But, yes, in due course, we will perform our basic purposes as living organisms too: We will survive to reproduce. But we will also do these things: we will protect and nurture our young as all other higher animals do; we will toil to produce so that we might share with our issue and with our neighbors, especially those who struggle, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually; we will contribute to the common good; we will leave a legacy, and; in due course, we will return to the dust from whence we came, thus completing the life cycle.

Please feel free to comment on this posting.

Published in: on March 30, 2017 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment