When Does God Overrule “Time and Chance”?

I…saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong … but
time and chance happen to them all”
Eccl. 9:11

The observations of the teacher in Ecclesiastes brought him to this conclusion, and we too observe “time and chance” as the normal course of life.

The fact has been amply confirmed by maritime disasters, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor Naval Base. In that harbor today a memorial stands over the USS Arizona which was sunk by an unexpected and unprovoked attack from the air on Dec. 7, 1941. The sunken ship became the final resting place of the 1,177 sailors that perished with it. There were only 335 survivors.

This disaster shows why nations maintain a defensive posture against potential threats from any who may be looking for ways to enlarge themselves and harm others. Another maritime disaster of tragic proportions was the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on July 30,1945 in the Philippine Sea, after it had left Guam for Leyte during the Second World War. The torpedoed aircraft carrier went down in twelve minutes. Of the 1,196 member crew, 300 went down with it and about 800 were spilled into the ocean. Only 316 men survived the ordeal. And they survived only because they happened to be spotted by a pilot on a routine patrol, who summoned a rescue operation. Even then, some had to spend almost two more days in rafts that were provided. When the survivors were asked what kept them holding on when all hope seemed lost, many said it was their belief in God that gave them the strength to hold on.

Another maritime disaster is recorded in Scripture, in the book of Acts, chapter 27, and this event had an outcome that was definitely not “time and chance.” Here the apostle Paul and two brothers in the faith (Aristarchus and Luke) were among the 276 aboard a ship bound for Italy, and God was looking out for them. The event is described in such rich detail by Luke in the book of Acts that it has been said to be worthy of a book on survival at sea.

After the passengers had endured severe hardship over many days, and all hope of being rescued had been lost, discouragement set in. Then one night an angel of the Lord appeared to Paul and assured him, saying, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” Here was the clear presence of God intervening, and the apostle could speak confidently to all on board the ship, that they would all be spared the watery death that looked inevitable at the moment. “Last night,” he said, “the angel of the Lord stood by me… So, keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as He told me” (Acts 27:22-25). It happened just as the angel had said. When the ship ran aground and broke up, everyone on board made it alive onto shore on the island of Malta.

Why was this not “time and chance”? Because God was intervening. Paul was traveling under the protection of the Divine, having been commissioned by Jesus Christ to take the Gospel to the known world of the Roman empire.

When they reached the shore of Malta, the people were hospitable, and Paul was given an honorary reception at the estate of Publius, the chief official of the island. Learning of the official’s seriously ill father, Paul was able to heal him. Word of this miracle spread rapidly, and Paul healed many others on the island. Before they departed three months later, we can be sure Paul missed no opportunity to plant the seed of the true gospel of Christ, and this was very likely the beginning of another committed group of true believers.

Once the seed of God’s word is planted in our hearts, it is our responsibility to make it grow if we want God’s protection. Isaiah 55:6 speaks to those who may be still undecided, saying, “Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call on him while he is near.” James 4:8 implores, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded…. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).

Ultimately it is faith, that solid confidence that earnestly believes God and takes Him at His word, that puts us right with our Creator. We know that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb.11:6 NIV).

Genuine faith is manifested in the conduct of those who learn by reading and meditating on the Word of God, and live by its principles. This is the “work” that we are expected to do to obtain immortality, the self discipline that builds a Christ-like character. It is reprogramming our minds with God’s principles.

As a person thinks and believes, that is how he or she lives (Prov. 23:7). responsible for our own action or inaction, as to whether our lives are by “time and chance” or under the watchcare of God’s angel. “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear [reverence] Him, and delivers them” (Ps. 34:7). That is exactly what the Scriptures mean when we are told to “work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12). Faith combined with obedience to the law of God is the formula for the righteous life that God will reward with eternal life.

We are not fighting for an earthly kingdom but with the sword of truth we stand firm “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this present age” (Eph. 6:12).   

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with the pure water of the words of life (Heb.10:22).

Then when Christ returns, we can be among the worthy ones who will be given those new bodies like Christ’s, when death is “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:57 NIV).

Meanwhile, let us hold unswervingly to our hope, knowing “He who promised is faithful” (Heb.10:23).       —WB

I praise Thee, Lord, for showing me the way,
For words of Truth that light my path today;
Teach me, I pray, to do all things aright,
Lead me, O God, ‘til Zion comes in sight.