Why “That was lucky” is always the wrong thing to say

As I committed to reading through Calvin’s Institutes with a friend, in honour of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, I thought it would be worth jotting down some bits that I found particularly interesting. Here’s the quote for today:

“In fine, Augustine commonly teaches that if anything is left to fortune, the world is aimlessly whirled about. And although in another man’s place he lays down that all things are carried on partly by man’s free choice, partly by God’s providence, yet a little after this he sufficiently demonstrates that men are under, and ruled by, providence; taking as his principle that nothing is more absurd that anything should happen without God’s ordaining it, because then it would happen without any cause.”

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, 16.8

The first thing that you need to know about Calvin is that he is a huge Augustine fan. I swear that he has quoted him on almost every page of the book. So if I have a quote from Calvin who is actually quoting Augustine, it’s not a misrepresentation, he’s a serial quoter! (They are always good ones though)

Anyway, this time around he’s discussing the idea of the world being run by “fortune”, “fate” or “luck” as opposed to God. Basically, the idea here is that if even only one small part of life or the universe is left up to luck, then it is random and happens without cause. I have to agree with him on this, as truly believing in luck really means that you’re eroding your confidence in God’s knowledge and oversight.

But probably, like me, you’re not one who really believes in luck, you just throw out missives like “that was lucky”, just as easily as we would “bless you” when someone sneezes. Why do we say it then? If you don’t agree totally with the idea of luck, then you’re just training your brain to dismiss the work of God in your life as a happy coincidence. How about you join me — I’m trying to from now on replace “that was lucky” in my vocabulary to “what a blessing”, or “God is good”? Because if life isn’t down to luck, so let’s not pretend it is!

(If you’ve got a better replacement phrase for “that was lucky”, feel free to comment below)

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