Happenstance

The universe is random. Despite the more fatalistic branches of Christianity, and other religions, the biblical picture—I believe—is not at odds with our experience of the world. That is, I believe that God has given us freedom, and that freedom is prized greatly by God—so much so that he was willing to let Adam and Eve have the freedom to choose badly: all that has followed that original bad choice on the part of the founders of humanity was worth it from God’s perspective. Otherwise, if goodness, for instance, and behaving well, were what mattered most to God, he would not have granted such freedom to our ancestor and ancestress.

I think likewise, that happenstance is a part of life as well. Sometimes things just happen. Consider the words of God in relation to accidentally killing someone when they hit him:

However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. (Exodus 21:13)

Or:

For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. (Deuteronomy 19:5)

Or consider the time when a king was killed by happenstance:

But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor. The king told his chariot driver, “Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.” All day long the battle raged, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that evening he died. (1 Kings 22:34-35)

It just happened at “random.”

The picture that we get of the world in the Bible is not one of determinism. Instead, people make choices and they are held accountable for those choices. Things may turn out well, or not.

Investing is unpredictable, and how things will turn out for you? Who knows?:

Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
If clouds are full of water,
they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.
6Sow your seed in the morning,
and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well. (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6)

And then, this passage seems rather explicit about the randomness of existence:

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. (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

We are free to make our choices. Our lives are not deterministic.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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