This week’s Questions @ Riverview post comes from the our summer series at Riverview on the Psalms. We covered Psalm 16 on Sunday, June 21. You can listen to that sermon here. As always, feel free to submit comments and questions on the sermon or the text to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a question or comment on the blue slip during the service.
If God controls the rolling of dice and the flip of a coin, why don’t we make decisions today by flipping a coin and trusting God to tell us what to do?
Psalm 16.5 says: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” Here David, the writer of this Psalm, refers to a time in Israel’s history where decisions were made through the casting of lots, or what we would relate to as the rolling of dice or flipping a coin. The thinking was that even though casting lots or rolling dice seemed random, God was actually in control of the dice or the lot – he was the one who made the dice roll a certain way or the coin land on a particular side, and come to a certain conclusion. For instance, when the tribes of Israel decided which tribe was to have which portion of land in Israel, they cast lots. But they believed that God was communicating to them through the casting of lots as to which tribe should have which parcel of land. In Psalm 16 David harkens back to that process and says that when it comes to the order and events of his life, God “holds my lot.” Or, in other words, God determines what happens in my life because he is in charge.
As the question asks, if God controls things that seem random, like dice or a coin flip, why don’t we make decisions today by flipping a coin or rolling dice and assuming that the outcome is God’s desired will for our lives? We would affirm today that God still controls the casting of lots, rolling of dice, and flipping of coins, but we don’t make decisions that way. Why not? Because God has told us in his word how we are to think, what we are to do, and how we are to live. We don’t need to roll dice or flip coins because God has given us his word. God expects us to use the wisdom of his word to determine the right course of action. For instance, to flip a coin every time I drove my car in order to determine whether or not I should wear my seatbelt would be foolish. God has given me wisdom to make this decision, based upon what I know to be true about the world and about God (namely, that the world is a fallen place where accidents happen, and that God loves life and the preservation of life – therefore, wear a seatbelt!). I don’t need to flip a coin, because I already know what God wants.
But what about harder decisions? Where should I live, whom should I marry, what should I pursue as a career, and so on? I would argue that those questions too can and should be answered based upon what God has revealed to us in the Bible. With the revelation of God’s will through his word, we have all we need to answer literally any and every question that arises.
If God “holds my lot” and controls everything, do we have free will?
Yes. This is a hard question to answer in a brief post, and I would refer to much of what I have written in response to the first question. Additionally, God gives us the free will to obey him or disobey him, based on what we know to be true about him and what he expects of us. Although God “holds my lot,” he will never force me to sin. God does not sin or force people to sin, but he does use their sin sinlessly. In other words, God can use our disobedience for his purposes (see Exodus 9.12 and Jonah 1-4). Pharaoh had the opportunity to obey God, but he didn’t, and as a result his heart was hardened. Jonah had the choice to obey God, but he didn’t. God has a grand plan that he is working out, and he uses our free will to obey or disobey his purposes for us perfectly in his plan.
That being said, because God holds our lots, may also prevent us from exercising our free will to sin (see again, the book of Jonah). All people have freedom to do what they will, and God will use their decision perfectly in his plan. It is our job to determine what God wills, and then to carry it out in our lives.
If God is controlling everything, is there such a thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time? (Are there such things as coincidences?)
We perceive coincidences because we are finite beings who live in space and time. We don’t see the big picture, so we conclude that things just happen to have happened a particular way that seems either lucky or unlucky. But if God is sovereign, and if he truly does hold my lot, then there is no such thing as being in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time, or any other combination thereof.
Again, as finite human beings, we can tend to worry that we have made the wrong decision about any number of things in our lives: did I make the right decision? Did I marry the right person? Did I do the right thing by moving my family for my job? The short (and simplistic) answer is that things happen because God wills them. How do we know they are part of God’s will? Because they happened! If something wasn’t a part of God’s will or plan, it wouldn’t happen, because he holds the lot. So rest assured: the person to whom you are married is the one God willed for you to marry. The place where you live and work are the places God willed for you to live and work. How do I know? Because that’s what’s actually happening. If it wasn’t God’s will, it wouldn’t happen, because he holds the lot.