God Does Play Dice

Rounding a curve on a two-lane country road, a blue car coming towards me suddenly swerved over the double lines.  I could see a young guy slouched behind the wheel startle to life and jerk the car, tires veering back to his side of the road, and we passed uneventfully.  But it was enough to make me think.  What if the idiot had not been as quick to respond?  He would have hit me head-on.

It reminded me of another time driving the back way around Lake Placid.  On a stretch of mountain road that is an up-and-down series of blind curves, a car came whizzing toward me, in my lane, after completely cutting the bend out of the arc.  I hit my brakes and the asshole breezed by.  I was stunned for a few moments.  What the hell??  If I had been five seconds faster I’d be dead.  What was he thinking?  Was it a game of chicken with himself?  Was he an adrenaline junkie?  I have not looked at approaching cars the same ever since.

After such moments, when impending death seems avoided, my mind looks for explanations.  Why did the kid pull the car back?  Why was I a few seconds late for a collision?  An accident could have happened, but didn’t.  Was it luck?  Part of a plan?

A lot of people would say it wasn’t my time to die.  It wasn’t in the cards.  God didn’t want me yet.  There are all kinds of phrases for the idea that life is mapped and coordinated by a higher reality.  Humans were planted on earth for a reason, and God has a purpose for each and every life, even the kid produced by the crack-addicted prostitute eager for twenty-five bucks.  Accidents avoided are accidents not intended by God.

It’s an attractive concept.  Almost 75% of Americans believe God has a plan for their lives.  Thinking your close misses are purposeful can leave you feeling special.  God has something in mind just for me.  It isn’t just random luck and happenstance.  That’s why God looked out for me on the road.

On the other hand, maybe the idea that God has a plan is simply a way to avoid life’s absurdity.  We don’t want to admit life makes no sense.  I remember a patient I counseled in the hospital, a forty-five year old man with heart disease, who talked about his experiences as a Marine fighting in the Pacific.  Of his original platoon, he was the only one to survive the war.  He repeatedly wondered why him, rather than someone else; he still felt guilty.  In his eyes, his life never justified that kind of luck.  He was a moderately successful businessman living in New Jersey.  Surviving years of island fighting only to die in middle-age of a bad heart seemed nonsensical.  He couldn’t see any kind of logic, divine or human.

A lot of people think his charmed then truncated life was part of a cosmic scheme.  But then we also have to believe the deaths of everyone else in his platoon, and the war which caused them, along with Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, and Auschwitz were all part of the plan.  In order to avoid facing the random and irrational nature of existence, we must believe in a God who likes carnage, and arbitrarily selects who will be the next to go.

A young man this week shot up a theatre in Colorado.  People who left home to see a movie found themselves in a war zone, instead.  Twelve are dead and fifty-eight injured.  The week before, two young girls in Iowa, ages 8 and 10, simply disappeared while riding their bikes to a lake.  Their bikes were found; they have been declared abducted.

Both incidents are senseless tragedies, and neither is unusual.  Our world is filled with senseless tragedies.  You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time, and the bouncing ball lands on you, or it doesn’t.  Good fortune can be as absurd as bad.  Otherwise, we have to believe Donald Trump represents the best and brightest among us, and he’s right where God wants him.

Saying life is random and irrational, and there isn’t any divine plan governing your life, or anyone else’s, sounds irreligious.  We are indoctrinated to see an order where none exists, attributable to an invisible God, by which we justify what we do, as needed.  To say God does no such thing can seem strange.  But that is the fact of the matter.  The only meaning to be found in life is the meaning you give to it.

Ironically, facing up to the absurdity of being human is also where true faith begins.  The cost of believing there is some kind of higher meaning is to acknowledge the world where none exists.  To accept it, to live in it, and then to believe anyway.  Admitting the absence of God is the doorway to faith.  Anything else is trusting in a non-existent God making non-existent plans.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

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