The Luck of the Draw

I have heard Fr. Thomas Hopko quote his father-in-law, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, many times as saying: “Spirituality consists in how you deal with what you’ve been dealt.” The image, of course, is of playing cards. Fr. Alexander’s point is that the circumstances of our lives are beyond our control – our spiritual lives consist in how we respond to what is beyond our control. It is home-spun wisdom.

There is another image that comes to my mind when I think of playing cards: stacking the deck (also known as cheating). We’ll return to this in a moment.

I have long thought that one of the deepest “religious” impulses in human beings is a belief in luck. Christians, Jews, people of every creed and no creed, want to “win.” And, of course, luck does not require a god. A great deal of what passes for devotion is, in fact, an effort to influence the outcome of the game. Much of this thinking falls in the “magical” category. “If I am a good man, I will be luckier.”

Change the language of luck and it becomes more devout. If I say my prayers; if I keep the fast; if I am less angry; if I give more money, etc. If…then. For some, God is the rewarder of those who do good – thus efforts of greater devotion yield more desirable results.

The most subtle aspect of our belief in luck is how quickly it substitutes for faith in God and how deeply it undermines the spiritual life. There is a feeling of happiness that accompanies winning. Some would even call it “gratitude.” “Thank your lucky stars,” however, is more appropriate than “thank God.”

Luck presumes a universe that differs greatly from the Christian account. With luck, the universe operates according to blind chance. No God is needed in the world of luck. There is the neurotic belief, of course, that if we’re smart enough and quick enough, we can bring some influence into the realm of luck and increase our chances. It is a perversion of “works righteousness.” The lucky universe is a world in which the wise learn to stack the deck and cheating brings great rewards.

The Christian account of the universe leaves nothing to chance. This is not to say that Christians profess a world of no freedom nor a world in which events are predetermined. The “mechanics” of the world remain a mystery. Every theological attempt to speak too specifically about such mechanics yields heresy. The world is free, we are free and God is free. But in the paradox of faith we confess that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28).

Many people see the rider “those who love God and are called…” and mistake this to mean that the “good” is only for them. The mystery of goodness is the mystery of our salvation – our conformity to the image of Christ – our participation in the Divine Energies – our theosis. Goodness is not our winning the lottery or getting that new job we want or acceptance into the right schools, etc. It may not even include my child’s healing from cancer. The Christian account is a belief in the goodness of God as made known to us in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the world read through the lens of Christ’s self-sacrifice that allows us to say, “All things work together for good.” That profession of faith will sometimes appear utterly contradicted by the evidence around us. I cannot argue it’s case – I can only bear witness to what I know in the risen Christ.

What I know is that I am not lucky. The traditional morning prayer of Orthodoxy says:

O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility. Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will. At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things. Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will.

This is not fatalism (“what will happen will happen and there is nothing to be done about it”). This is acceptance of the goodness of God. Belief in luck is fatalism, with the added nonsense that I know enough and am wise enough to make things turn out just a little bit better. Every gambler thinks he can beat the house.

In the crucible of experience our modern world has the unprejudiced testimony of addicts living in recovery. They speak about “acceptance” rather than luck. Luck is the stuff that addictions are made from. In the addicted life (and the life of sin) we keep doing the same thing expecting a different outcome. Next time…

Only confidence in a good God who loves mankind can save us from the madness of our drive to manage the universe. Those in recovery, like the fathers of the Church, also speak of “gratitude” and “thankfulness.” There is no one outside of ourselves (or our lucky stars or other notions of make-believe) to thank for our good luck. Fortuna is a brutal goddess.

Only if there is a good God who wills good for His creation can we be thankful. Such gratitude presses us to the limits of our weakness. “Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will.” May I run out of luck and learn to be grateful.



About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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61 responses to “The Luck of the Draw”

  1. Devin Avatar

    This is touching on some things I’ve been wrestling with lately. Particularly the idea of gratitude and thankfulness. What is the basis of our gratitude in the daily things we experience?
    I think I understand and express gratitude for the ‘major'(for lack of a better word) things like creation, the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ. God’s gift of love for me, a sinner. It’s the more general experiences of daily life that I struggle with. As an example, I’ve been trying to get back into the practice of praying before meals because I want to express gratitude to God. I know it’s important. But my admittedly over active mind wrestles with ‘what exactly am I thankful for?’. I work, I earn a wage and I buy a meal. So perhaps the thankfulness is in having a job in the first place and the ability to afford a meal? But what of those who can’t? Is God doing something specific for me that he isn’t doing for someone else for which I should be thankful?
    I always think of the stories we hear of someone’s child being in a car accident with some of their friends. Their child survives the terrible accident and they thank God. Many times they say to others “God saved my child”. But what of the other parents and their children who didn’t survive? Is it that God intervened for the child who survived and that’s why thanks is due?
    Ugh…I struggle to put in words what’s in my heart. I hope what I’m trying to get at is clear.

  2. drewster2000 Avatar

    Excellent post, Father.

    I have seen few religious people approach this topic – and not with such clarity. There are many good one-liners in here, but one of my favorites is “Fortuna is a brutal goddess.”

    In truth, winning the lottery could be the worst thing that could happen to me and getting cancer could be the best. Being sick and not in our right minds, we know little of how we are wounded – and therefore are poorly qualified to prescribe a cure, let alone influence “the fates” in that direction.

    I thank God that He is I AM and that I don’t have to rely on the random cruelty of luck.

  3. Reid Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, I forgot to say it earlier, but congratulations on the site redesign. It looks good.

    Your post today reminds me of St. John Chrysostom’s homily (one of my favorites), “No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Harm Himself.” In it he points out Job, facing the focused attention of the devil, gains vindication, glory, and salvation, while Judas, enjoying the intimate friendship of the Son of God, only increases his own condemnation. Chrysostom’s point, expressed in the title, is that our harm or benefit comes not from what we encounter but from how we (by God’s grace, of course) respond .

  4. PJ Avatar

    “In the addicted life (and the life of sin) we keep doing the same thing expecting a different outcome. Next time…”


  5. dinoship Avatar

    Thank you for addressing this subject Father!
    It reminded me of a (inspiring as usual) talk by a highly respected Abbot, where, in response to a question about ‘chance’ from a monk, his answer pointed instantly to our need for faith in God’s plan. I do remember it going something like this:
    “I might now walk out of here and badly break my leg, well, it will be EXACTLY what I need and I haven’t the slightest doubt about it!
    Everything that befalls me I need, and I need it as much as you might think I need to see the Uncreated Light or the face of the Lord!”

  6. Jim Avatar

    A friend of mine, who is Orthodox, pointed me to your blog about a year ago. Since then, I have been quietly slipping in and out behind the scenes reading all your blogs. This is the only time I have commented, and, in part, because I am an “outsider”. Nonetheless, my having found your thoughts sincere, thoughtful, and helpful (e.g. The Two Story Universe series), I felt some compelling obligation/desire to say thank you. I still find many of your explanations of Orthodoxy difficult to process, and simply because they are so foreign to the protestant/evangelical world in which I am rooted. But, attempting to be a “serious” student of the Scriptures for the past three decades has “expanded” the lenses through which I see Christianity… And now hearing about Orthodoxy first-hand from you and my friend, I have grown to appreciate your (Orthodox) way of looking at the Scriptures and the world. Again, thank you… And I’ll be listening…

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    In thinking and re-reading, I probably should have noted that saying, “All things work together for good,” is decidedly different than saying all things that happen are good. I would never see a child’s cancer (or anyone’s) as good. But I accept that a good God works even such terrible things for our good. As I have written about before, “With a secret hand God battles eternally against Amalek.”

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    I easily understand your point. The specifics of every thing (which means every gift) are lost on us. But the giving of thanks is also an act of offering. I give thanks means that I do not take this (or eat this) as though I created the world myself. With all due apologies, God says to us, “You didn’t create that!” To eat (for example) as a creature and not the Creator, is to give thanks for what we have – for we did not create this ourselves. And that life of receiving, of offering thanks and giving back again, only to receive, and give thanks, etc. (a cycle), is the true cycle of life. It is to live eucharistically. “Let us give thanks unto the Lord,” “it is meet and right so to do…”

  9. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for this, Fr. Stephen! I have been watching my 12 year old play a free blackjack game on his kindle recently and wondering how to contrast the concept of luck with what you say here:
    “This is not fatalism (“what will happen will happen and there is nothing to be done about it”). This is acceptance of the goodness of God. Belief in luck is fatalism, with the added nonsense that I know enough and am wise enough to make things turn out just a little bit better. Every gambler thinks he can beat the house.

    In the crucible of experience our modern world has the unprejudiced testimony of addicts living in recovery. They speak about “acceptance” rather than luck. Luck is the stuff that addictions are made from. In the addicted life (and the life of sin) we keep doing the same thing expecting a different outcome. Next time…

    Only confidence in a good God who loves mankind can save us from the madness of our drive to manage the universe.”

  10. Margaret Avatar

    And I don’t really like the idea of my 12 year old playing games like blackjack, do you have advice or is there a teaching in Orthodoxy that you could point me to concerning games of chance?

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What about the Apostle’s drawing lots to fill Judas’s place?

    There are many thing in life than can be thought of as ‘games of chance’. Your son’s playing of the free game of blackjack may help him realize that the mathematics of gambling are not in his favor, unless the deck is stacked in the writing of the program.

    My question is how is ‘feeling blessed’ different that feeling lucky?

    I tend to think of blessings as things I like and enjoy. My wife and son for instance. It is much more difficult to think of challenges, pain and loss as blessings.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    Michael and Margaret,
    The Apostles certainly did not think of drawing lots as a game of chance. They believed it to be a means of giving the choice into God’s hands. St. Tikhon of Moscow was chosen to be the Patriarch in 1917 by lot.

    “Feeling lucky” is a belief about a random universe. “Feeling blessed” (if rightly used) means to be oneself to have been a recipient of God’s kindness. Randomness requires no god – just a willingness to deal with the results.

    Technically there is no harm in games – just as technically there is no harm in adult drinking in moderation. But there are dangers in the addiction of chance (gambling) and the addiction to alcohol. We are wise to be careful. My late Archbishop publicly criticized games of chance as a means of raising Church finances – a practice not unknown in the U.S. I’ve seen him ruffle a few feathers from time to time. His contention was that it was not in keeping with the dignity of the Church and instead taught the practice of the tithe – both biblical and patristic.

    I don’t think it is particularly Orthodox to make a blanket condemnation of games of chance (Dostoevsky didn’t fare to well in them). Their greatest danger lies in their connection with money – we up the level of adrenalin and add to their danger. It’s also lousy stewardship (both to winner and loser). But we are certainly free in the matter.

    Margaret, better to give your son more interesting things to do than to forbid something he seems to enjoy.

  13. drewster2000 Avatar

    To underscore what Fr. Stephen said about games, one good guide to use is to notice what effect it has on the practitioner.

    –Is the 12-year old irritable while he’s playing?
    –Does he neglect his duties because of the game?
    –When he’s done, how does it leave him? tired and frustrated or cheery and outgoing?
    –Is he gracious about interrupting the game when someone/something needs his attention?

    As with alcohol it is not negative for everyone, but one certainly needs to be cautious and prudent when dealing with “substances” that have shown themselves to be addictive for a significant percentage of the population.

  14. SteveL Avatar

    One of the most memorable things my mother told me when I was young was, “There’s no such thing as luck.” I’d never considered that there were other rationalizations that amount to believing in luck.

  15. PJ Avatar

    The final stage of the selection of the Coptic pope is by lottery, isn’t it?

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    PJ. probably.
    In Tennessee, in a custom that we have had for nearly a decade now, we select millionaires by lottery. But we don’t let them be pope.

  17. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for taking time to respond to my question. I agree with you and your recommendation. God bless you! Glory to God for All Things!

  18. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    “Only confidence in a good God who loves mankind can save us from the madness of our drive to manage the universe.” – I’d like to hear you expound on this. Mankind’s “drive to manage the universe” is pretty innate – it is the reason we became agricultural, why we bred wolves to become domesticated dogs, and why we have striven and continue to strive for mastery over disease. Without this drive, would we in fact be human?

  19. […] The Luck of the Draw. “Spirituality consists in how you deal with what you’ve been dealt.” People who learn something of my life are often shocked by my experiences. Heck, even my own wife is sometimes surprised and doesn’t really understand how I’m as sane as I am. Like most people, I can’t really imagine a life other than the one I’ve had. But I suppose it has strayed from what most people would consider a “normal” life. Yet it is fundamentally my life. And anything I can call spirituality necessarily operates within its context. So this post by Fr. Stephen resonates deeply with me. […]

  20. dinoship Avatar

    if I may,
    I think that, as with most actions, it is all about the motif behind “our drive to manage”.
    A selfish motif generates sin. A selfless other-serving motif generates virtue…

  21. PJ Avatar

    Cultivating the universe is one thing; attempting to manage (perhaps micromanage or control are better words) our destiny at every level is something entirely different. The former is indeed perfectly human, and fitting with our God-granted role as stewards, while the latter is a sort of neurotic twitch resultant from a fear of death and decay.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m drawing a distinction between what we can do, and what we frequently desire to do. We can work, we can plan, we can hope. What we cannot do, generally, is guarantee the outcome. Stanley Hauerwas at Duke (one of my old Professors) used to say, “Whenever we agree to charge of the outcome of history, we have agreed to do violence.” It is good to work, plan, hope. The drive to control and take charge of the outcome is what is beyond us. It drives us both to do things we should not do, and can create an inner life of torment.
    I agree that the drive to mold (even control) our environment is God-given and proper (it’s sort of under the heading of “dominion, etc.”). But we cannot be gods, and when we seek to be, we become less than human, sometimes almost demonic.
    Your observation is well-made.

  23. PJ Avatar

    “Dear Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom of know the difference.”

    ‘Bout says it all, no? God bless

  24. Fr. James Guirguis Avatar

    I really wish I would’ve read that prayer this morning Father. What a useful reminder that lie, particularly our life in Christ, is what happens when we are making “plans” and looking for “lucky breaks”.

  25. Andrew Avatar

    This is a awesome post because is reawakens the age old point of “divergence” between old world thinking and the one-story narrative of Christianity (the quotation marks are there because the divergence is only apparent; artificially induced and therefore temporal). If one scratches away at it’s surface, the linguistic symbols start to throw up their deeper meanings. The term “lucky star” harks back to the “star of the god Rephan”, as Acts 7:43 is rendered in one translation of the NT (“Rapha” = “healer” in old Hebrew) — And yet, the apparition of the heavenly messengers of Israel, presages the coming of the Lord who takes on flesh. Truly beyond words. I have given up trying to contain them.

  26. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    Hi fatherstephen – Thanks for the reply. One of my favorite quotes on this subject matter comes from the movie Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldbloom states, “Your scientists were so busy wondering if they could that they never stopped to ask if they should.”

    To me this is the fine line that we walk, particularly with regards to bioengineering. We can now clone just about any animal (which is great for those species that are going extinct and may actually be helpful in terraforming planets in the distant future). We can take a human skin cell and transform it with four chemicals into a human liver, lung, kidney, heart etc. These are magnificent feats but at some point we are going to have to say, “Hold your horses” (e.g. when we can transfer our memories to a computer and them upload them into a new body – all of which is now theoretically possible).

    Here is my quandary: Why would god make it possible for us to become gods ourselves and also give us the drive of “dominion”? It seems a recipe for disaster. I wouldn’t trust us to do anything but screw things up.

    I sometimes envy our ancestors who did not have these powers at hand. Life is moving way too fast for me. “I miss Mayberry…”

  27. Diakrisis Avatar

    Father bless! Much appreciated …

    “Avoid profane and silly myths. Train yourself for devotion” (1 Timothy 4:7). What is fortune telling? There are three kinds of belief, which have their origin in fortune telling: belief in blind chance, belief in things and belief in the almighty power of the spirits of darkness (The Prologue from Ochrid

  28. John Avatar


    “Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day, teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will.”

    How do we reconcile this prayer to the petitionary prayer for specific outcomes so common in the Protestant world (i.e., praying for such things as my mother to be healed from cancer, or for employment for my brother, or even for the bus to come on time so that I am not late for work)? If I am to accept everything that comes to me throughout the day with the conviction that is all “subject to [God’s] holy will”, then it doesn’t really make sense to make prayers for healing or deliverance or protection – or anything other then “Thy will be done”, really – a part of my daily devotions, does it?

    If you could shed light on this, I’d greatly appreciate it – it’s something I’ve been wrestling with for some time now.

  29. dma Avatar

    Hello Father Stephen,

    I’m fairly new to this blog (been following it for some weeks now), though I’m not in any wise new to blogs or forums in general. The level of wisdom I see in your posts is very drawing for me. I’m not a Christian, though I once was. However, I began learning about Orthodox Christianity some years ago, and I have always felt that the Orthodox have a wisdom in their points of view on scripture, the godly life, and life in general that I see is generally lacking among other Christian groups, even Roman Catholics.

    You said, “This is not fatalism (“what will happen will happen and there is nothing to be done about it”)”. However, is this not the attitude of Ecclesiates’ author? He says to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Seems to me that such an attitude expresses a fatalistic mindset. I realize that such a reading may not be the Church’s interpretation of the message of Ecclesiastes, or perhaps it is. After all, Ecclesiastes is in the Old Testament, and therefore is not necessarily representative of the truth of life or God, as only Christ is. However, on its surface it certainly seems to be saying this. Your thoughts?

    As far as the universe containing nothing of chance, how would one explain the roll of dice or random number generators? Any possibility or combination could happen. Are we to believe that God determines the outcomes of all things? Then again, I also believe a case could be made logically that explains how nothing in the universe is ever determined by pure randomness as there are always extenuating factors that can be taken into account. And though those factors may exist, and in fact do exist, since they are so small, and in some cases completely fundamental and basic, we human beings are keen to overlook them by not paying to close attention to them, and attribute the occurence to mere randomness and chance. Thoughts?

    Thank you for a wonderful blog!

  30. dinoship Avatar

    I remember Elder Aimilianos of SimonoPetra addressing that point a few times.
    In a nutshell, he would say that praying for all these things is naturally allowed, although one must be aware that he is still at a very low spiritual level when he hasn’t the faith to leave everything up to God’s good judgment…
    The saints that prayed for such matters only did this because the Spirit moved them to do that.
    Our motif is very self centered when we pray for such petitions, we are not in the place of trusting peace when we do that…
    Therefore the Jesus Prayer -and the prayers of the Church allocated to different times of the day etc.- cover everything that needs covering, he says.
    There is nothing like enclosing all possible petitions in the Jesus’ prayers “have mercy on me” (even if that “on me” comes to mean the salvation of all of Adam) in total trust in the Lord!

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s not unusual to see a phrase in Orthodox prayers “grant all of my petitions which are for my salvation,” or something similar. Of course, in Orthodox thought, “salvation” means the whole of the Orthodox life of being progressively conformed to the image of Christ (“from glory to glory”) until our last breath. We can, of course, pray for anything. But the Orthodox attitude is generally, “Why would I want anything that is not in accordance with my salvation?” Along with the understanding that my salvation requires difficulties and obstacles. Such things do not earn us anything, but the work of grace uses all such things for our good.
    There is certainly a “Thy will be done” about all of this – but wrapped in the larger “for my salvation,” lest we forget that God’s will is always for our salvation.
    The weakness of Protestant thought (and elsewhere) is its radically truncated version of salvation. Salvation is, more or less, a one-time transaction, leaving the rest of life to consist of better parking spaces and other trivialities. Better to “rejoice!” and to “give thanks for all things,” in the life of prayer.
    In larger matters of great import – of course we should pray for healing and God’s mercies – and rejoice when we receive them. How could a heart of mercy not pray for a mother’s healing (or anyone’s)? Although even then, “in accordance with her salvation,” would not be unusual to hear. If my mother’s death from cancer would work towards her salvation, how would I not want her salvation? Thus, there is always a yielding before the mystery of God’s work in a universe that is often opaque.
    In the course of our spiritual life, it is not healings and desired outcomes of circumstance that crush us: Instead, it is the universe that is beyond our control. Part of the mercy that I beg of God (in His mercies granted to those around me) is not to “crush” me. The life of St. Paul, for example, would seem unbearable to me, though he rejoiced in it.
    In our prayers, are we trying to change things? To some extent. But we are also trying to be changed ourselves. It is right to pray, for this is thrusting ourself into the life of God. But finding ourselves within His life, we seek to be conformed to that life. And this is the great struggle of prayer. All prayer is about union with God.

  32. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ecclesiastes offers the observations of “the Preacher.” “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” It sounds fatalistic, though it is not. It is an observation on things we do not understand and an observation of the foolishness of man in the face of his own ignorance. Thus, it is a book of “wisdom.”
    On “random number generators” and the like. Everything that exists is sustained by God. He even sustains the randomness of such things. “O Lord, how marvelous are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all!” In contemplating the relationship of outcomes to God, it is good to allow yourself to be completely overwhelmed. Consider the entire universe, even to the sub-atomic level. All of it. And then contemplate outcomes. At that point, like Job, “I put my hand to my mouth!”

  33. PJ Avatar

    “Better to “rejoice!” and to “give thanks for all things,” in the life of prayer.”

    I’ve always thought that the whole Gospel is summed up with remarkable succinctness in 1 Thessalonians 5:

    “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.

    See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

    Rejoice evermore.

    Pray without ceasing.

    In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

    Quench not the Spirit.

    Despise not prophesyings.

    Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

    Abstain from all appearance of evil.

    And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    Rejoice always — the shortest verse of the Bible when considered in Greek: pantote chairete — would be my episcopal motto … were I a bishop. 😉

  34. dinoship Avatar

    “All prayer is about union with God” makes the point a far more succinctly!

    I utterly agree with you on “rejoice always”, I used to write it everywhere many years ago as a reminder “πάντοτε χαίρετε!”, repeating it has the power to attract the Lord’s Grace…

  35. dma Avatar

    Father, I sincerely appreciate the response. I guess my question is: Do the Orthodox consider that all things that occur in the universe at any given moment in time, including something as insignificant as the rolling of dice in a casino, to be directly controlled or governed in some way by God’s divine will and power? I have heard professed Christians (non-Orthodox) seem to make this case in their desire to uphold the ultimate sovereignty of God’s will in the universe. This position seems to me to be a bit extreme. If the Orthodox do not believe this to be the case, then what is the Orthodox understanding regarding this? Thank you for your time!

  36. PJ Avatar

    I don’t think it’s as easy as a simple “yes” or “no,” DMA. Humans have free will, but all things are subject to God’s providence. Many attempts to resolve this enigma have resulted in heresy.

    Consider, for instance, the radical determinism of the reformed churches: Martin Luther said that “all things happen by absolute necessity,” yet he was rather libertarian compared to Jean Calvin.

    Luther and Calvin, but especially Calvin, were influenced, via the late medieval Nominalists, by the Islamic doctrine that God is pure will, infinitely beyond reason and love, justice and mercy.

    Orthodox Islam makes clear that Allah is not even restrained by his own word: Mohammad ridiculed the Jews for believing in the constancy of the Lord. Allah will do what Allah will do, for he is not bound by rationality or tenderness. Will simply wills, you see. Thus the fascination with the “99 Names.” These do not describe the nature of God, but merely his “economic” actions, to borrow a Christian term.

    Indeed, the likes of al-Ghazzali took the sovereignty of Allah to absurd heights, denying any causality apart from the direct application of the Divine Will. Thus, to this day, universities in the Muslim world teach “fire does not burn cotton; Allah does.” Even the most basic and pragmatic scientific enterprises, such as meteorology, are viewed with skepticism or even hostility because the laws of physics supposedly do violence to Allah’s absolute freedom and unconditional power.

    This madness bled into Christian thought gradually, revealing itself finally in the centerpiece of reformed thought: double predestination. The non-Protestant Christian churches avoided the Islamic influence to greater or lesser extents.

  37. PJ Avatar

    Isn’t Ecclesiastes essentially an examination of the various flawed philosophies of man, one of which is hedonism (“eat, drink, and be merry”)? The Preacher is not endorsing such libertine madness, but rather critiquing it. He concludes:

    “And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.

    The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.

    The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

    And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

    Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

    For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (12:9-14).

  38. dinoship Avatar

    I once received this simple answer from my spiritual Father to the same question:
    “think of God’s control over everything a bit like the Constitution, it controls the ‘top and bottom’ and ‘left and right’ extremes within which you are allowed to function freely, a combination of governed and apparently non-governed life.
    Also, do keep in mind that human rationality has not got the power to comprehend things like “God sustaining the randomness of multiquadrillions of quantum particles”.
    Apparent “randomness” as well as apparent “teleology” all exist ‘within’ the One Who truly Exists. The entire universe is, as if it is non-existent when compared to the solidity of God’s existence. We could say, in a certain sense, that ‘only He Is”…

  39. dma Avatar

    Hi PJ and Dinoship,

    I appreciate the responses you gave to my question. PJ I especially found interesting the history of Islam in regards to this question. Thank you for that! Dinoship, you say your spiritual Father considered God’s control over everything as similar to the Constitution which “controls the ‘top and bottom’ and ‘left and right’ extremes within which you are allowed to function freely, a combination of governed and apparently non-governed life.” This is an interesting point of view, and one that I see is more in harmony with how the universe seems to work. There do seem to be forces in the universe that govern and control the behaviour of everything within the scope of the universe. These various forces we designate as “laws”, such as gravity, thermodynamics, etc. In my philosophical musings I have often wondered what exactly exists because of what? Does the universe exist because of and within the scope of these “laws”, or do these “laws” exist because of and within the scope of the universe? If you were to draw two circles with one encompassing the other, and one circle represented the universe while the other represented the “laws”, which one would be the outer circle, and which one would be the inner circle? Seems to me that if the universe was created by reason of the “laws” (Stephen Hawking in his The Grand Design believes the universe was created out of nothing by means of the “law” of gravity), then that would necessarily place the “laws” on a plane outside the confines of the universe. After all, if the universe was created by means of the “laws”, then the “laws” would necessarily be independent of the universe. This begs the question: if this is the case, which it does seem to be, then what exactly are these forces that govern everything within the universe? They’re not matter, and they apparently are not energy either, since these forces govern the nature and behavior of both of those things. The “laws” appear to be something entirely alien to anything we know or understand. I realize that Christians will be reluctant, and rightfully so I believe, to equate these forces with God, or perhaps God’s energies (as the Orthodox would say). But if these forces that govern the nature and being of everything within the universe, including the very nature of the universe itself, are not God or God’s energies, then what could they possibly be? But if they are a part of God Himself, since it appears they have not been created with the universe, then what does that tell us about God? Sorry for my ramblings, but these are some things I think about sometimes.

    PJ, you said my question cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. As I said earlier, the Orthodox appear to me to have a depth of wisdom that I see generally lacking in other professed Christian groups, including the very intellectual Roman Catholics. Whereas some other groups would present certain perspectives as an “either/or” scenario, I have found the Orthodox to be quite fond of saying “both/and” in their understanding of seemingly contradictory positions. I sense an inherent wisdom in this type of response, and I believe your response falls into this “both/and” understanding. It continues to impress me with its wisdom, though I don’t always understand it. Thank you.

  40. PJ Avatar

    ” As I said earlier, the Orthodox appear to me to have a depth of wisdom that I see generally lacking in other professed Christian groups, including the very intellectual Roman Catholics. ”

    I’m a Roman Catholic myself, so watch out! 😉

    But seriously, the Orthodox have a particular approach, one which I can certainly appreciate. I occasionally attend a local Orthodox parish: rich fare indeed! Some of my favorite Christian writers and sages were/are Orthodox.

  41. dinoship Avatar

    the laws are ‘bigger’ if you see it in the Maximian sense of the “Logoi” of things.
    Your initial question could thus be answered differently by saying that there is a reason (logos) for everything and it comes from God.
    Overanalysing the scientific side of philosophy or the philosophical side of science can never achieve the wisdom of those fathers who reach true knowledge (without “seeking” it even) through faith and purity of heart…

    Sorry for the subtle hint PJ… but I see you as a true Christian first and a Roman Catholic second, very much to your credit and honour…
    (Not that being Orthodox 1st and Christian 2nd is not to my credit though) 😉

  42. fatherstephen Avatar

    Orthodoxy confesses something of a paradox viz. freedom and God’s work. There is freedom and yet that freedom does not negate the end for which it was created. That “end” (“telos”) is within the “logos” of its existence. Orthodoxy would never state the extreme of the “dice theory,” simply because it is not the Orthodox way of speaking. But Christ clearly indicates that nothing happens without God (“not even a sparrow falls from its nest…”). Thus, we can trust that ALL things work together towards God’s good purpose. But that confesses a mystery that encompasses our freedom and the freedom of things (but all that exists behaves in accord with its nature – inasmuch as that is possible in our fallen world). Thus rocks do not act like trees, and trees do not fly. It is the strange problem of human beings that we are free to act contrary to our nature – with disastrous results. But we cannot make human nature to be something other than what it is. St. Maximus would say that we can “weaken” human nature.

    Dice behave like dice and so fulfill their logos.

  43. Andrew Avatar

    Father, if I may. Dice contain within themselves the undistorted image of a tree and act therefore according to their true nature. Thus a losing bet is simply preparation for a better win and a long shot is an option only because it has the potential to transform everything…

  44. Andrew Avatar

    This would be true for wooden dice of course but the same could also be said for dice made out of bone, metal or any other material even plastic, a byproduct of ancient forests — I am quite sure St. Maximus would approve of the rightful elevation of creation 🙂

  45. TeresaAngelina Avatar

    Hello Father Stephen,
    This is not exactly on the topic of chance but your comments regarding the universe and chance brought to mind another’s words regarding what they considered the universe to be “telling” them. This is an Orthodox Christian’s comment. They have a number of times suggested that this or that was the “universe” trying to tell them something, the most recent in meeting others who are interested in maintaining health through exercise. I admit that this kind of comment troubles me.

    In another thought, I saw recently “happiness is in itself a form of gratitude” which if directed to God is perhaps good. Even in the midst of terrible things, happiness is still possible – maybe not cheerfulness but happiness.

  46. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would be wary of those who claim the universe is telling them something.

  47. TeresaAngelina Avatar

    Yes, my thoughts too. But it causes me a great deal of sadness that this is how they choose to address their life of late. It is my hope that they do not mean it in the manner that it appears. As I have no moral authority in their life, I cannot comment, but I can pray. Thank you, Fr. Stephen; this is helpful.

  48. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    I’m joining the discussion a bit belatedly but I found much that resonated with me here.

    Regarding luck and prayer: “prayer” can be superstitious, trying to control what happens to us – or worse – trying to control God.

    Yet I believe prayers of intercession have a great value. We are creatures who use words. When I pray for another or another prays for me, this sharing binds us together in Divine love. The outcome is less relevant the process, for (as others have said) I cannot know what is “good” in the true sense. I can only know what I want – and that is certainly a very limited view of “good”!

    Likewise, when I pray the Jesus prayer, I am not doing so because God needs me to tell Him to be merciful, for of course he is more merciful than I can imagine. However, the words predispose me to a heart open to His mercy.

    If I might, here is a link to something I wrote on my blog a couple of years ago about prayer, related to this discussion: (again, not trying to promote my blog but offering in the spirit of sharing)

    “All prayer is about union with God.” Father Stephen – thank you again; very wise words.

  49. Andrew Avatar

    What do you see? A oft repeated phrase of the Lord particularly in the Old Testament. We tend to “see” that which is within ourselves. If only good resides within, then we lose the critical eye of judgement and we are filled with mercy. Theosis — We become like Him.

  50. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    TeresaAngelina: I think there is a real distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness comes from earthly satisfaction and is usually transient. Joy is a gift of God that is transcendent and enduring and not realted to what is transient in our lives. I personally have know some of the most transcendent joy at a time of my deepest grief.

    The ‘universe’ stuff is an heretical belief imported from the narcissim of the so-called New Age

  51. kat Avatar

    Glory to God for all things says it all, I’m not a believer in luck good or bad an interestinging article that also addresses this

  52. TeresaAngelina Avatar

    Hello Michael – yes quite true. sometimes I wonder when people say “happiness” “joy” “cheerfulness” and other identifiers if in their own mind, defining their own terms, if they mean the same or something different. But I take your point and yes, joy is different than happiness. And yes, I have experienced the same. Even when it is the hardest thing to do, obedience brings joy…as does repentance.

    Thank you too for your comment regarding ‘universe.’ Rather goes with the idea of self-divinization, this narcissim.

  53. Jack Jones Avatar

    Thank you for this

    I currently study at a Catholic University (which I enjoy greatly) I myself am not a Chatholic however Christian in the sense of knowing and following Christ. Before this university I studied at a Bible College. In both instances Christians of all denominations would say “Good Luck”

    It really annoys me

    It is simply the culture of the day and the talk of th etimes influencing how we act and think.

    I often reply I dont need luck, it doesnt exist. I need God. Perhaps returning to God Bless you would be a more fitting response for a believer and follower


  54. Andrew Avatar

    Well said Kat. Would just like to point out that the link you sent has been broken.

  55. […] The Luck of the Draw – Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory To God For All Things (OX) […]

  56. Devin Avatar

    Sorry for a late comment (I hope this is bad blog etiquette). I was reading through this again today my attention caught on something I saw the first time, but didn’t comment on:

    “Change the language of luck and it becomes more devout. If I say my prayers; if I keep the fast; if I am less angry; if I give more money, etc. If…then. For some, God is the rewarder of those who do good – thus efforts of greater devotion yield more desirable results.”

    It seems as though you might be saying the above is not true. Could I ask you to expound a bit? Perhaps you’re taking about a kind of ‘slot machine’ mentality where we think we can put in our money (prayers, fasts etc) and we get a prize (reward from God). And while I see the problem with that thinking, I guess I’ve always thought “…efforts of greater devotion yield more desirable results.” was a true statement.

  57. Devin Avatar

    * I hope this is NOT bad blog etiquette

  58. dinoship Avatar

    I do believe it is that ‘slot machine’ mentality that is the problem indeed. We constantly are in risk of falling into wanting God’s gifts rather than God himself,or even of ‘repenting’ because I (me me me…) have sinned (self-centred manner) rather than repenting because I saddened my Lord, of wanting to control rather than trusting His control.

  59. fatherstephen Avatar

    The difficulty, of course, with the if…then is that we want to name the results. Efforts of devotion may indeed yield fruit, but not of our own choosing. The fruit of the Spirit is God’s own gift – we don’t get to pick out the gifts. We are never the “cause” of our own salvation.

  60. Sophia Avatar

    Sorry to keep popping up on different threads several months later; there’s so much wonderful discussion to catch up on!

    I was interested in the comment about being wary of someone who says the universe is telling them something. It made me realize, I still feel very uncertain about how to discern God’s will in a particular situation. Sometimes a confluence of events might make me inclined to think God is telling me something (years ago I too may have said ‘the universe’)…other times maybe a movement in my heart…but I never really know if it’s me reading things that aren’t there. My basic sense is to follow the belief of living into what is good for salvation–meaning, it won’t be God’s will to go against anything we accept as God’s will revealed to us–but in day to day relationships, or vocational discernment, in times of heartbreak or disappointment….is there a particular path Orthodox recommend for discernment?

    Thank you!

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