I really enjoyed writing this article on commission from the Singaporean Christian magazine where I used to work. I had learnt a little about the Singaporean Chinese background to Fate when somone told me what the non-Christian former generations would say about a person who was diagnosed with cancer, had a miraculous remission through Christian prayer, and then died: ‘your temple might provide temporary healing, but it was their fate to die.’ This article has been extruded from my archives, dusted off, tweaked a little, and will be a chapter in in my forthcoming book, ‘The Sandwich.‘ If you’ve been paying attention to previous blogs, you will know ‘The Sandwich‘ is about living life sandwiched between the promises of God and, well, everything else.
You can think of them as people. Luck is female: tall, pale, beautiful, elusive. When you don’t expect it, she flashes you a warm smile. But try to get friendly, and she’s gone. One moment you’re dancing with her; the next, you’re dancing alone.
Fate is male, thuggish and not very subtle. You see him shoving through the crowds. He takes you by the collar. ‘Don’t do that.’ He growls. ‘Do this.’
Does faith make you lucky?
But surely our faith will charm and tame Luck and Fate?
We read in our Bibles that ‘goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life’ (Psalm 23:6).
And common sense makes us think, too, that on the whole, Christians will probably endure less than the average serving of ‘bad luck’. For example, just as I was writing this article, I (luckily) found that two Christian newspapers in the UK had recently been writing about luck. They had commissioned a survey of attitudes and given the results to a psychologist who specialised in understanding psychological factors in creating luck. He found that, compared with the average person, committed Christians will be luckier, because Christians tend to:
- Chat to strangers (so they will have more happy coincidences with meeting people)
- Expect other people to be helpful and friendly (which is often self-fulfilling)
- Expect bad situations to produce good in the end (which has the effect of helping you reap the best from any given situation.)
Then, it seems to me that Christians are less likely to be involved in some risky or unwise behaviour, which also affects your ‘luck’. Here in the UK, many traffic accidents, diseases, and crimes arise out of alcohol abuse, clubbing, smoking, drugs and gambling. It is rotten luck to be hit by a drunken driver. But this rotten luck is more likely to happen at times in the night when the Christians are already self-righteously tucked up in bed with some hot cocoa and the latest copy of the Church Times, safely protected from sinners.
True, you may spill your cocoa and be badly burnt, or you may be angry at some Church Times article and suffer a stroke and die. There is, indeed, a finite probability that you will first burn yourself with cocoa and then suffer a stroke and die because of the Church Times. But still, rest assured, snug in bed, you are safer and luckier than the average.
Oh no, it doesn’t
So – to repeat the question — does the Christian faith charm and tame Luck and Fate?
Not so fast. Christianity has side-effects that might look ‘lucky’. But waving prayers and Bible promises at those evil characters Fate and Luck is about as much use as waving a child’s plastic sword or cardboard shield at Death itself.
Let’s not be shallow. Look around in your church. You will see people suffering from the most outrageous, improbable acts of bad luck or malicious fate. If you personally have escaped so far, stick around. Never think, just because your life is going well, that the Christian faith has finally persuaded Luck to fall in love with you or Fate to tone down the bad stuff. Remember the same book of Psalms that contains the promise
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life (Psalm 23:6)
also contains Psalm 13, which is rarely quoted on Christian-themed cards:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (vv1-2)
Quit the game
I’m not sure that Christianity is really much use for manipulating Luck or Fate. Why? Because that’s not what the Christian faith is for.
Take the apostle Paul. Before his conversion to Christ, he was a clever, well-educated, hard-working, zealous, and highly respectable young man, from a good family, the sort every Jewish mother might want for her daughter.
Conversion ruined this promising, respectable life. Paul abandoned a good career as a Pharisee and rising politician and instead travelled the world preaching the gospel. From then on, his was almost a cursed life. Wherever he went, trouble followed. He kept being flogged. Mobs attacked him. City authorities despaired of him. He was in and out of jail. At times, people prophesied that he was fated for trouble if he visited Jerusalem. He went anyway. Sometimes, riots happened despite his best efforts, just through ‘bad luck’. He was kept in jail in Caesarea for two years as an innocent man on the careless whim of a corrupt governor: what a rotten stroke of luck. He didn’t care.
He had turned to Christ. Life then seemed to turn on him. And yet he never turned back. Why? Because when he turned to Christ, Paul had found Life Himself. He found the Priceless Pearl, and he gave up everything else to get it.
Before his conversion, Paul’s religion could have been described as ‘principles for a successful life.’ But they didn’t work for him: they were fine principles, but there was no power. After he met Christ, life became about being joined to The Life, loving Him, serving Him, bearing His fruit. He gave up, in a sense, on wisdom for living and preferred to die every day.
And Fate and Luck no longer had any power over him. Bring ’em on. Let them do their worst: they only became something like allies in his pursuit of God.
In one of the most famous chapters of his most famous book, Paul wrote,
… we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but wealso rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5, 3-4).
It’s as if he said, ‘Good luck? Well, if heaven drops a date, I’ll open my mouth. Bad luck? That will just drive me deeper into the resources of Jesus.‘
Paul’s co-authors on the Christian textbook agree. Here’s James: Trials? The testing of my faith develops perseverance. Peter: Trials? They just prove my faith genuine, like a storm proves the seaworthiness of great ship. Even the writer of Psalm 13, I found, eventually takes his eye off himself and his rotten luck and focuses on the eternal. Never mind all this, he says to God. ‘I trust in your unfailing love.’ In my trials, he says, I find all this goodness and love, eternally strong and sure.
So the next time Luck surprises you with bad news or Fate overwhelms you with it, fear not. Your universe may be collapsing but the universe is only temporary. Fate and Luck belong to this provisional universe, and they will pass. Christ’s salvation is primarily designed for universes and worlds that will never wear out. We will still be feasting there when those doomed wretches Luck and Fate are distant memories from another age.