Time, Chance, and the Providence of God

The “Final Four” for the 2017 Men’s NCAA Championship have been determined!  For those of you who don’t follow college basketball, this is a big deal.  Sixty-four teams are invited to compete in this annual championship.  They are divided into four regional divisions of sixteen teams each.  The teams that won their divisions this past week make up the “Final Four.”  This year those teams are: Oregon, Gonzaga, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

For sports fans and gamblers alike, this tournament provides an awful lot of excitement.  It might be said that filling out brackets, i.e. predicting who will win the games in this tournament, is a national pastime.  Just one online platform for projecting tournament winners had 18.8 million participants filling out brackets – predicting who the winners and losers would be![1]  What a wonderful sample from which to crowd source a likely outcome for the tournament.

And yet we find that the nation’s experts and amateurs alike are off the mark.  By a lot.  Shockingly, only 657 people (out of 18.8 million) picked Oregon, Gonzaga, North Carolina, and South Carolina to be the 2017 Final Four.  That is 0.003%.  How can so few people have picked the four teams that would win their sixteen team divisions?

Ecclesiastes 9:11 offers some insight on this phenomenon:

“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

In other words, there is something inherently unpredictable about outcomes.  In absolute terms, it is simply not the case that the fastest runner always wins the race; that the strongest fighter wins the battle; that the wise, brilliant, and learned receive food, wealth, and favor.  Under the economy of God’s providential care, there are always circumstances beyond our control that will prove to be the deciding factors in some of our outcomes.   And so we cannot predict our tournament results with anything remotely resembling competency.  Time and chance rule out the possibility of our mere metrics and statistical analyses yielding anything like certainty.

And isn’t that a great thing?  Isn’t it great that your God will use time and chance to grant victories or favor in situations when by all reasonable projections you ought to lose?  Isn’t it wonderful that God cares for you so much that he will humble you by denying you a “slam-dunk” victory when you thought you would surely obtain your objective?

On the third of this month, the NCAA championship will be decided.  I have no idea which of the Final Four teams will either compete in that game or win it.  But I do know this: as a Christian, Every day is game day.  Every day Christian living requires a race to be run as if to win (1 Cor. 9:24) and a battle to be fought with the goal of standing (Eph. 6:13).  The human, physical, secular values of things like speed, strength, and brilliance are of a very qualified importance in determining the outcomes of such races and battles.  God delights in lifting up the humble.  So run however fast God has blessed you with speed.  Struggle with whatever strength he gave you.  Think with what powers of reason you have been blessed, Plan with the wisdom you have received.  And knowing that it is not ultimately your speed, strength or learning that secures your success, put your trust in God who will at times exalt and at times humble you – all in accordance with his glory and your eternal good.

Your Pastor,

Bob Bjerkaas


[1] http://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/ncaabk/march-madness-2017-bing-predicts-the-final-four/ss-BByYEkd, accessed on 3.28.2017.

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