One time, when my family and I were on vacation, I drove around a curve to find, directly ahead of me, a line of cars stopped dead because of roadwork. I put the brakes on hard, relieved that I had time to stop. But what about cars coming behind me?
The highway, consisting of one lane in each direction, curved to the right, with a mountain rising just to the right of the road, and a drop-off to the left. The drivers coming in my direction could not see me because their vision was blocked by the mountain. Would they be able to stop in time? Should I run back to warn them? Should I blow my horn to warn them? If I blew the horn, would the sound be blocked by the mountainside?
Before I could decide, looking backward I saw a car coming round the curve, too fast to stop. To avoid hitting us, the driver swerved left into the lane of oncoming traffic. Fortunately, no car was coming in the other direction, and he was able to stop in the lane to our left.
At that point I started blowing the horn. Too late. Another car came round the curve, again too fast. I thought, “It can’t stop. It is going to crash into us.” The driver braked hard but lost control, and the car spun 180 degrees. It ended up facing backward on the berm, squeezed between us and the mountain. The driver was emotionally shaken but physically intact. Now we had a car to our left and a car to our right. There was no more room.
A third car followed, coming right at us, as our children in the back seat watched helplessly. It managed to stop a couple of feet behind us. Finally, the roadwork opened and we proceeded forward. All the people had escaped an accident. My family and I had escaped what seemed to be certain injury and a wrecked vehicle.
What do we say about this incident? Some people would say we were “lucky.” We escaped “by chance.” It just happened to be the case that the oncoming cars found room to our left and to our right. Or was it the hand of God’s providence?
We felt afterwards as if an angel had pushed the cars to this side and to that. God had sent an angel to protect us. But we did not actually see an angel. Nor did we see a hand reaching down from heaven to move the cars. Was it just our imagination? Was our escape a “miracle,” or was it just an “accidental” result of driver reactions and physical processes?
We escaped. But not everyone does. For every story of a narrow escape, someone else can tell a distressing story of not escaping. Someone tells of being in a horrible auto accident, nearly dying from the injuries, losing an arm or a leg, and spending months recovering. And the accident could have been avoided, if only the oncoming car had swerved a little earlier or a little later. Was the accident “by chance”? Was God in control?
If I am ready to acknowledge God’s control when my family escapes an accident, should I also acknowledge that God is in control when someone else suffers from an unpredictable tragedy? Or do tragic cases involve pure chance, beyond God’s control? And if God is in control, did he actually plan the events beforehand, or did he just react to the unfolding events at the last moment?
Big accidents and near accidents have drama to them. But what about the small things? Yesterday I could not find my checkbook. Today I found it in a pocket of my briefcase where it did not belong. Accidentally, it must have fallen into the wrong pocket when I dropped it into my partially opened briefcase. It got misplaced “by chance,” someone might say.
What about totally unpredictable events, like the flip of a coin or the roll of dice? Every time we flip a coin, the result is unpredictable. It comes up heads or tails “by chance.” What do we mean by the word chance? What is it?
Excerpt taken from “Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events” by Vern S. Poythress, © 2014, pp. 11-18. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers (Wheaton, IL)