I love church “potluck dinners.” All sorts of dishes show up from the kitchens in the community: fried chicken, ham, roast, lasagna, tuna casserole, green beans, mashed potatoes, cucumber salad, macaroni and cheese, pinto beans, asparagus, cakes and puddings and much more, too much to list. Those who make their way down both sides of the table emerge with plates running over.
One church called a new pastor who was not familiar with the culinary traditions of the community. He was staunchly set against all forms of gambling and soon railed against the very idea of a pot “luck” anything. The deacons and the women of the church got together and came up with an idea. “How about pot providence dinners?” This seemed to calm the theological storm so that everyone could once again enjoy the cooking.
I know it sounds a little odd. But strange things happen in churches — and it does raise a question. How much of life is providence, and how much is just plain good and bad luck? For some, of course, there is no such thing as chance. Everything, down to the smallest detail of every day is providential. And for others, there is no such thing as providence. Life is just the luck of the draw. But is it?
Forrest Gump, in the classic movie, contemplated the question that faces us all. Is life the result of random chance, like a feather balanced on the breeze, or does destiny direct our path?
Mathematics contains an entire field of probability and chance. Any single flip of a coin cannot be predicted. But if that coin is flipped enough times, it will eventually sustain the laws of probability. It will turn up tails just as often as it lands on heads. This is called the “law of large numbers.”
At the same time, some of the greatest men in American history have recognized the power of a providential presence. Benjamin Franklin opened his famous autobiography by saying, “I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence.” George Washington repeatedly referred to “providence” as a guiding force throughout his life.
In 1862, during the Civil War, Lincoln stated, “If after endeavoring to do my best in the light which He affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. … and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it.”
Reflecting on his life, King David wrote, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” Psalm 139:16.
While God has established laws of probability in the universe as real as the physical law of gravity, He has also established His providence. He has a plan and purpose for our life.