More on Gambling…

This post began as a reply to a query from a reader on my previous post on gambling.  As is often the case, I got so wordy I figured I might as well just make my response another post!  

Casting lots depends a great deal on what we *think* (since we can’t ever truly *know*)  is actually going on behind the scenes – what is the understanding regarding what is happening?

Casting lots implies any number of methods for allowing random actions to make decisions.  However, it seems to me that there can be two fundamental understandings about this process.  The first is that the casting of lots is essentially a random action.  Divine or supernatural manipulation of the process is possible but not necessarily stipulated or required.  The second understanding is that the casting of lots is not at all random, but rather a direct way for the divine or supernatural to make known a desired outcome.  This can range from a vague hope that the resulting decision is the will of God, to a firm conviction that nothing is truly random, and that what we consider to be random is in reality the will of the divine/supernatural expressing itself. If we focus in on just this second understanding, it can either be a human-initiated effort to discover divine or supernatural will, or a tool directed for human use by a divine/supernatural will.  In either of these latter cases, the assumption is that the result does reflect the divine/supernatural will.
This utilization of some form of random action to reach a decision appears in multiple places in the Old Testament, and two (the soldiers dividing up Jesus’ clothing and the disciples choosing a replacement for Judas) in the New Testament.  Considering that the Old Testament forbids the use of divination (Leviticus 19:26, Deuteronomy 18:10), it seems clear that the proper interpretation of these Scriptural references is not a human-initiated activity aimed at discerning the will of God.  Some people think that the Urim and Thummim of the Old Testament were some form of lot casting device.  If so, the key issue would be that God had given his people these objects for this purpose, with the understanding that He was allowing them to use them to help discern wisely.  
Scripturally, obedience to God’s commands is fundamentally different than initiating an action without being commanded to do so (consider Saul’s sacrificial blunder in 1 Samuel 13).  If God tells his people in a specific circumstance to perform an action, it’s not necessarily setting an example of what they can and should do of their own volition.  God is in charge, not us.
While interpretations differ widely, I’m of the opinion that those passages in Scripture that describe some form of lot casting are instances where either the action is undertaken at the command of God, or the action is seen as allowing God to work in the results, but not requiring it.  The disciples found two qualified candidates to replace Judas.  They met all of the criteria put forth.  There seemed to be no compelling reason to choose one over the other, yet one had to be chosen.  Having done all they could to make wise decisions, and still winding up with two equally qualified candidates, the apostles see fit to pray, ask for God to show his will, and abide by the decision that results from casting lots.  I seen in the casting of lots an understanding that this was a fair way to make a decision because the outcome would be equally good regardless of the result.  If God the Holy Spirit worked in the randomness of the lots, so be it.  If not, the decision would still be binding because there would be no reason to question it.
I suppose the closest equivalent these days would be the idea of flipping a coin.  When I flip a coin (generally when determining who is going to break in a pool game) I don’t particularly assume that God is guiding the outcome.  In fact, I rarely do.  Could He be?  Certainly.  The fact that I’m the result of 20th century modernism rather than first century culture probably contributes quite a bit to my default mindset.  Regardless, I am unable to discern in most situations if God is guiding the outcome or not.  I don’t obsess about trying to figure it out.  That’s not my job.  My job is to do what is laid before me in a way that brings glory and honor to God.  Sometimes (almost all the time?) that can be accomplished equally well whichever way the coin lands.
Another modern example of lot casting would be the mindset of more than a few Christians that God needs to directly guide them in each of their decisions.  Should I take this job or that job Lord?  Give me a sign.  Should I date this guy or that guy Lord, give me a sign.  Should we have another baby or not Lord, give us a sign.  I don’t tend to believe that Jesus or the Holy Spirit directs our every action, and I believe that insisting that He not only can but should/must is a form of abdication of responsibility.  If Jesus tells me everything to do, nobody can hold me accountable if things go badly, if I make the wrong choice, etc.  Of course, it leads to a lot of theological angst should something you believe Jesus told you to do turns out terrible.  
God gave us brains, we use them to the best of our ability.  He gave us Scripture to guide us, and we seek to let it do so.  He gave us Christian community to assist us in discernment and wisdom, and we undoubtedly could make better use of this resource!  What more do we want?  Yes, God does answer requests for a sign directly sometimes (Judges 6).  If this was how we were supposed to make decisions all the time, why bother to give us Christian community or Scripture or brains?  He could have just built a light into our chests that would flash when we were doing what He wanted us to do.  
So, getting back to William’s original comment – yes, we want to pray in making our decisions.  We must acknowledge that we have a Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that means seeking his will at all times and in all things.  This should be done in conjunction with using our brains, using Scripture, and using trusted Christian community.  We need to separate process from result, and recognize that how we make decisions is often far more important than what decision we actually make.  Can you flip a coin as a Christian?  Sure – depending on what you think could or should be going on behind that coin toss and why you’re relying on it in the first place.  
Helpful?  Confusing?  Misguided?  Lemme know!

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