And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Luke 10:31
The one who directs our attention to this verse writes: "Does chance challenge God's omnipotence? I was reading Luke 10 and in particular the parable of the good Samaritan, when verse 31 caused me to stop. 'And by chance there came down a certain priest that way.' By chance!?! A. W. Pink reminds us (in his book 'The Attributes of God' -- p. 14): 'God did not merely decree to make man, place him upon the earth and then leave him to his own uncontrolled guidance: instead, he fixed all the circumstances in the lot of individuals.' Perhaps you could explain the Scriptures' use of 'by chance' in vs. 31."
Perhaps the explanation for the use of the word "chance" in Luke 10:31 can be explained by the fact that it is included in a parable. Jesus is telling a story of something which did not actually happen in order to illustrate to a tricky lawyer what the Bible means by loving our neighbor. Within the story, it was a priest who "by chance" came upon the wounded traveler. After all, the priest was the office bearer in Israel who held the office of mercy. He would be the one expected, above all others, to show mercy.
Nevertheless, we are not so easily released from the question, for the Scriptures use this or a similar expression in other places where no made-up story is involved. I have in mind, e.g., Ruth 2:3: "And [Ruth] went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech." In this passage the words "her hap was" can also be translated, "by chance she."
A. W. Pink is correct when he insists that God fixes absolutely all the circumstances of the life of every individual. Although the attribute of God's omnipotence is surely at stake, our insistence on this truth, along with Pink, rests also in the truth of God's eternal counsel according to which He determines all things, and His absolute sovereignty according to which He executes His decree. His providential control of His creation includes not only His work of upholding all creatures by His power, but also of directing and controlling all creatures so that His counsel is carried out
When the Scriptures use the expression "chance" or "by chance" (you can look up the passages with the help of a good concordance), the Scriptures intend to describe what happened from our viewpoint.
Let me illustrate with the passage in Ruth.
That the events which are described in Ruth took place under the God's control is evident from the fact that, from God's point of view, Ruth had to marry Boaz, because from that union Christ would be born. And so God directed Ruth's footsteps to the fields of Boaz to glean so that Ruth could meet Boaz and, through an interesting series of God-directed events, the two could marry and have a boy named Obed.
But from Ruth's point of view, it was "chance" that brought her to the field. She had no thoughts of marrying a Israelite. She had gone to Israel from Moab only because she was an elect from a foreign country who believed in the God of Israel and who was determined to worship Him alone: "Thy God shall be my God . . . (vs. 16)."
Even if she had hoped, secretly, that she might be able to marry again, she had no idea who such a one was. But God did know who her husband would be. She did not stop at the field of Boaz with a fixed plan in mind. It happened to be the first field she came to where harvesting was taking place; or it was a convenient field to use to gain some support for herself and her mother-in-law. But God knew it was the field of Boaz. She surely had no thought that she would be a part of bringing forth Christ. But God knew that too. And God brought her to Israel for her God-assigned role.
(Even today married couples wonder at such a providence of God. They meet their future spouses without any idea that they are in the presence of one with whom they will spend the rest of their life. They meet under strange circumstances and in strange ways. Their paths take strange and unexpected twists and turns. And before long they find themselves married. They look back in wonder and awe and are humbled by the mysterious ways of God's providence. Part of the wonder of God's ways is that their meeting was, from their point of view, "by chance." He [or she] happened to be there too. And we met. And....)
The Form for Marriage used in the Protestant Reformed Churches describes how God brought Eve to Adam at the dawn of history. It then adds, in a remarkable statement: "So does God still bring to every man his wife."
God determines our path in all its details, with all its unexpected twists and turns, in all its surprises, when suddenly something happens to alter forever the course of our life. What a wonderful truth it is to know that all our life is in the hands of our heavenly Father. We can sing with gusto: "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" (Ps. 73:24).
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 10
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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