Casting Lots: Does God Control Everything?

Released Monday, 29th August 2016
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“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). John Piper was asked, “Has God predetermined every tiny detail in the universe such as dust particles in the air… including all our besetting sins?” He responded saying: “Yes… Now the reason I believe that, is because the Bible says, ‘The dice is thrown in the lap, and every decision is from the Lord’ … and why would he choose the dice that is cast into the lap, because he is trying to think of the most random thing he can think of, and he says that. So, randomness is not random to God. God is not the least taxed by keeping every sub nuclear particle in its place… which means yes, every horrible thing, every sinful thing is ultimately governed by God…” Which is paralleled elsewhere in a book edited by Piper which says, “God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory and his people’s good. This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…” (which we discuss more fully HERE) It may seem reasonable to conclude that if God predetermines even something so seemingly random as the roll of dice that He likewise would predetermine something like the heinous intentions of a child molester, right? Wrong! This is simply poor inductive reasoning mixed with some bad eisegesis. Remember, one of the key practices of good hermeneutics is to always seek the intention of the original author. In Proverbs 16:33, is the author’s intention to say that God predetermines the outcome of casting lots in same manner He predetermines the decisions of people? I seriously doubt it.  In fact, I believe the meaning is almost the exact opposite. Allow me to explain. You see, many people in that day were superstitious and resorted to practices like casting lots or drawing straws to make decisions, rather than using sound judgement, scriptural teaching or seeking Godly wisdom. So, the author is more likely saying something like, “If you resort to superstitious dice throwing to make your decisions, you still won’t thwart the overall purposes of God.” The author is not suggesting that God is meticulously controlling how the dice will fall, because that would just go to support the logic of their folly. After all, if God is determining the outcome of the dice, as the theistic determinist reads this passage, it makes perfect since to resort to this kind of decision making process!  Clearly that is the antithesis of the author’s actual goal in making this point. Proper hermeneutics also teaches us to look at the context of each passage. Earlier in the 16th chapter the author gives sound decision making advice, such as:  “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!” (v. 16). “The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives” (v. 17) “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD” (v. 20). “The wise in heart are called discerning, and gracious words promote instruction” (v. 21).  “Prudence is a fountain of life to the prudent, but folly brings punishment to fools” (v. 22).  “The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent, and their lips promote instruction” (v. 23). A fool casts lots in order to make decisions, but the “wise” and “prudent” “avoid evil,” “give heed to instruction,” and “trust in the Lord.” But even when unwise fools seek God’s will by resorting to the folly of dice throwing, God’s greater purposes will still be accomplished.  In other words, stupid people making bad decisions in unGodly ways, like casting lots, won’t keep God from accomplishing His ultimate purpose. [For instance, the apostle’s hasty decision to cast lots in order to appoint Mathias to replace Judas (Acts 1:26) did not keep God from accomplishing his decision to call the apostle Paul (Gal. 1:11-12).] Through out the 16th chapter of Proverbs, the author makes several very similar comments to what we read in verse 33, all of which point to God’s purposes being accomplished despite and/or through the free choices of people: “To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue” (v. 1). “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (v. 9). [Which relates to Psalm 37:23: “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.”] These passages establish both human autonomy and God’s sovereignty. Mankind makes plans autonomously, yet God has the ability to overrule those plans and/or guide mankind in the fulfillment of them. This is the balance seen throughout all of scripture. Within our God given freedom we have the ability to decide to take that job that was offered to us, for instance, by consulting our child’s magic eight ball, but that would be folly. Does that mean, however, that God’s purpose and plans would be thwarted if you took that job based on the superstitious advice of a child’s toy? Of course not. God’s purposes will stand despite your unwise decision making process based on finite deterministic logic. The proverb is not suggesting that our Holy God is predetermining the outcome of lot casting.  The proverb is teaching that it is folly to fall for deterministic finite logic by making decisions based on the erroneous belief that God is predetermining the outcome of superstitious lot casting. In fact, if God has predetermined the outcome of the lot being cast, then it would be perfectly logical to resort to such means in order to seek out His will for your life. The point is that this kind of deterministic thinking is pure folly. The scriptures teach you “not to conform to the pattern of this world,” by resorting to immature superstitions, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2). The wise make decisions, not based on the fatalistic assumptions of philosophy, but based on prayer, fasting, seeking Godly counsel and waiting on the peace that passes all understanding which can only comes by the guidance of the Holy Spirit within. Because the future is unknown to us, it is certainly understandable that when faced with a difficult decision we might resort to some unusual worldly means, such as, “If the next car that passes me is red, then I’ll sell everything and become a missionary to India.” A person steeped in deterministic philosophy might feel justified ignoring his calling to become a missionary given that God must have determined that passing car to be lime green instead of red. But, that kind of decision making is clearly foolish because it is not based on the reality of how God has chosen to work temporally within our world. For instance, when the people of Judah adopted the pagan ritual of child sacrifice in order to appease God, He responded saying, “They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind” (Jer. 7:31, emphasis added). He did not say as the Westminster confession suggests, “That I your God must have decreed all future things, [including child sacrifice, because this] is a conclusion which necessarily flows from [my] foreknowledge, independence, and immutability.” If the theistic determinism of Piper is true, certainly God could have inspired the apostles to write something like we see in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, “God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass [including every evil desire, temptation and subsequent sin.]” Instead, however, the apostle James taught, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:13-14, emphasis added). God is completely Holy (separate from sin) and His eyes “too pure to look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13).  “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33)—which means He cannot in any way be the author of evil. Some appeal to Isaiah 45:7 while attempting to argue that God decrees all moral evil, but the passage actually says, “There is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.” In other words, God plans calamity (natural disaster, disease, etc)  as a judgment for evil doers, not that He Himself is the determiner (or cause/author) of moral evil. God is certainly more powerful than any evil. He can destroy it or step in at any moment to thwart the plan of evil creatures, but He is not the one who originates, causes, brings about, authors or in any way determines moral evil. Likewise, God is not about deciding the outcome of your silly craps game, so stop thinking like the gnostics and the stoics and act like the morally responsible human being that He created in His image. Take responsibility for your actions because to act responsibly means to act like you are actually able to choose your response (not like God predetermined your response). In fact, right now you are responsible for how you react to this article. You can go blog or podcast about how inept of a theologian God determined me to be, or you can humbly acknowledge that God simply may not fit into an omni-deterministic world view. Either way, you cannot really blame me, because my eight-year-old son’s magic eight ball told me, “It is certain,” when I asked if I was suppose to write this article. ——– Added note: While the Tanakh had its Urim and Thummim, which possibly were gemstones used by ancient Israelites to determine God’s will (see Nu 27:21; 1 Sam 28:6; Ez 2:63; Neh 7:65), there is much debate over the source and actual purpose of this questionable practice. We know that Israel had many controversial practices at times throughout her history (including bigamy), but such behaviors recorded within the biblical narrative are not necessarily an endorsement of those activities. While it’s certainly possible that God revealed his will through supernatural signs (i.e. Gideon), we must remember these types of revelations were unique and not generally condoned as normative means to seek God’s purposes. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit and we should seek His face through prayer, Bible study and Godly counsel not tests and gambling. Additionally, the tossing of a coin or casting of lots could also simply be away for two “morally free” individuals to come to a compromise in a matter of dispute. This may be why the casting of lots was often associated with an oath (i.e. Each party making the promise to abide by the outcome of the tossed coin).  This is reflective of the fact that it is a disputable matter, not a morally accountable one. In other words, it is not a moral issue if this neighbor gets the north side of the river verses that neighbor getting the southside. It is a disputable matter which cannot be settled between two libertarianly free people who have conflicting opinions on an issue that God’s law hasn’t made morally clear. To apply such practices, as I believe John Piper did, to the morally evil choices of man is unacceptable hermeneutically.

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