Ecclesiastes: Time and chance

diceDo you believe in chance? Accidents? Coincidence? Luck? I’ve heard Christians dismiss each of those concepts at one time or another, trying to sound spiritual as they correct someone else’s speech.

“Luckily, I found it.”

“Christians don’t believe in luck!”

The writer of Ecclesiastes believed in chance/fortune/destiny/… however you choose to translate it. Fact is, a lot of our versions avoid translating these terms, although most translate Ecclesiastes 9:11 something as follows:

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)

Reading through Ecclesiastes, we can see that the writer believes that some things just happen. They happen to the wise and the foolish, the good and the bad, the strong and the weak.

God hasn’t chosen to move us around like pawns, plotting out every movement along the way. There is room for time and chance to play a part in our lives. Does that mean God isn’t in control? No, it doesn’t. It means that he has chosen to give men free will, to allow his universe to act within certain guidelines.

Sometimes after an accident, people say, “God was with them and they weren’t hurt.” Does that mean that if they had been hurt that God wasn’t with them? We know that’s not true, yet our way of speaking can lead to heartache for many. In this world, time and chance play a part in our lives. That’s one of the messages of Ecclesiastes.

8 thoughts on “Ecclesiastes: Time and chance

  1. I’m teaching a class on Eccl now. What a study! I like the thought that Eccl is a ‘corrective’ to Proverbs. Proverbs is rich with ‘retributive theology (RT)’ the idea that we get what we work for, good character and righteous always meets with positive reward, etc. There are some verses in Prov. that take the other view (misfortune can befall even the good man), but RT is strong here. Eccl corrects this by showing that even the good man meets with frustration, disappointment and death. Some see it as a negative book, but it is very practical.

    Good post. More on Eccl coming? wb

  2. I’d never heard the idea of Eccl. as a corrective to Proverbs! That’s really interesting!

    Doesn’t King Ahab get killed by an arrow launched “at random”?

  3. I know of people who say, “we don’t believe in luck,” and I have always wondered what you call it then, when God doesn’t control every little aspect of your life (like we’re pawns, as you say) but something good happens to you anyway. I mean, I KNOW he didn’t hold that green light a little longer so I could get through it — can’t I say, “ooh, I got lucky on that one.”

    And then about your last paragraph — I’ve wondered that too. How can I thank God for keeping someone safe without sounding like I believe God must have allowed someone else to get seriously hurt? We want to give God the glory in all things.

  4. Warren: Interesting thoughts on the “corrective.” I hadn’t run across that idea. I’d like to look into it more.

    Nick: Yes, that is another random event mentioned in the Bible.

    Lisa: I will say that I don’t believe in an active force called luck, especially one that can be influenced by “lucky charms,” etc. In that sense I don’t believe in luck. But I don’t believe God controls every small event in this world.

  5. Tim, you mean to tell me that pressing the STAY YELLOW button on the dashboard of my car has no effect on the universe! You scurvy knave! You’ve ruined my life.

    :)

    Lucky Charms are a tasty form of idolatry.

  6. Well that certainly doesn’t jive with the neo-calvinistic theology that seems to be lurking unknowingly in so many Christian corners which claim to NOT be calvinistic.

    Ecclesiates certainly debunks the idea that God is a puppet master controlling our every little move. The book of Job debunks the idea of karma, which surprisingly is finding a resurgence among Christians as well as non-believers. In fact, the corpus of Wisdom Literature in our Bibles really messes with some of the hard conclusions (naive?) we tend to draw about who God is, how God works in this world, and subsequently how this world turns. The question is whether we can live with some of the ambiguity that the Wisdom literature will leave us with…thus having a God who, inspite of all of his self-revelation, is still mysterious in many ways? Or is it too terrifying to accept God cannot be forced into our neat little philosophical catagories, and so we do a virtual veto of those passages that might leave us with more ambiguity than certainty?

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  7. I guess I have no idea what to add to this, except that I agree with Lisa, when someone says they are thankful to God for protecting or healing, then that makes other people feel pretty sad when God didn’t protect or heal one of their loved ones. Makes me think of the rain, it falls on the good man’s field as well as the evil man’s. Like I said, nothing of great importance to add. Thanks for the discussion it has given me food for thought.

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