Divine Randomness?

“And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”

This single line is from the lectionary reading (Acts 1: 26) for this Sunday, May 13, which also happens to be Mother’s Day, but I am pretty sure Mother’s Day was a later addition to the calendar and isn’t found in the original Greek text.

casting of lotsI have been chewing on this line all week as words like predestination and fate and “the luck of the draw” have made their way into my meditative space. The text is a reference to the final choice (or divine act) as the early Christian community wrestled with how and who should restore the apostles back to an even dozen. The congregation clearly used some discernment and studied the resumes and the hearts of two men—Justus and Matthias—as they considered who would step into the hole filled by the disgraced disciple, Judas.

We don’t know whether the two men were equally qualified and therefore subjected to a simple lottery, like the toss of a coin, or whether casting lots was a typical way of handing such heady decisions over to God. What we do know is that the final selection came down to a very quick and unceremonious casting of lots. The coin was tossed, so to speak, it came up heads, and Matthias’ life went one way and Justus’ life went another way.

silver medalistI sometimes wonder whatever became of Justus after the casting of lots. Did he walk away bitter? Was his life never the same? Did regret chase him every day like the “if only” that chases the silver medalist at the Olympics? Did he fade into obscurity and become just a shadow of his former self? Or did he not even give his loss a second thought knowing that God must have had something special in store for him as well?

Conventional wisdom would tell us that Matthias was the luckier of the two; lots were cast and he was the lucky winner! The apostles went looking for someone special. Justus was special, but not quite special enough according to the outcome of the lottery. As luck would have it he was just a runner up in God’s story.


But I wonder if truly neither of them were lucky or unlucky. I wonder if there were no winners and losers in this text. I even wonder if it didn’t matter whether it was Matthias or Justus who won the coin toss. Either way God’s will was going to be done. I wonder if, in that brief moment, when one man’s life went one way and another man’s life went another way if both of them felt that God had a plan for them. I wonder, even though the text doesn’t reveal it, whether there was no hierarchy of service. Matthias ended up where God most needed him. Justus also went where he was most needed by God. Two different paths equally needed by God.

Like I said this text got me thinking about such words as predestination and fate and “the luck of the draw.” It got me thinking about the apparent randomness of divine favor—why one person would become an apostle and the other relegated to a footnote in history; why one person is given a long and prosperous life and another dies of cancer before retirement; why one church grows and another declines; why the future sometimes turns on something as random as the toss of a coin and the casting of lots.

I wonder, “Is the fate of our lives as random as the casting of lots? And, if it is, does it matter? Does it diminish our intimacy with God?”


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