By Rev. Antony W. Ball
They drew lots and the lot fell on Matthias,
who was then assigned a place among the twelve apostles.
Acts i 26, NEB
I’ve never “done the lottery” – not because of any high-principled objection to gambling (I’ve occasionally taken part in raffles) but because I’m too ‘careful’ with money (mean?) to squander it on anything that has so little chance of ‘success’.
In Old Testament times, however, ‘drawing lots’ was one ancient way of discovering God’s will. The High Priest would carry two ‘dice’ (called ‘urim’ and ‘thummim’ – Hebrew words meaning ‘lights’ and ‘perfections’) in the breastplate of his robes, ready to be produced as/when required1. The system doesn’t seem to have been used very often2 and it largely ‘died out’ once God started to appoint prophets to speak on His behalf. The election of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot may have been an attempt to revive that Old Testament idea (although Peter had already laid down strict conditions on the qualifications required3), but once the Holy Spirit had come at Pentecost it was assumed that in future He would guide believers to act in accordance with His will, and there is no further mention in the rest of scripture of using ‘chance’ to determine God’s will.
Discerning God’s will by random chance sounds at first like a good idea, but it would simply become too easy – just toss a coin, for example – because the outcome would then require no further effort on our part. God would, of course, still determine which way up the coin would fall, but He wants us to discover His will by developing a relationship with Him, and that’s a process which takes effort on both sides. God has already made the effort, by coming into the world Himself in the form of Jesus, suffering and dying and then leaving His Spirit to be with us as our Guide. Now it’s our turn. As we grow to realize His continuing presence with us…
- by talking to Him in prayer and listening out for His answers in scripture and in worship
- by living within a loving Church community, thereby giving and receiving support
- by thinking about His word to us in scripture and discovering more about Him
- by telling Him we’re sorry when we get things wrong – and meaning it.
- by loving our neighbours – even when we can’t manage to like them
- by sharing the sacrament with Him
By doing all that (and more), our relationship with Jesus will gradually grow stronger and more meaningful, both to Him and to us.
Any attempt to short-cut that gradually-developing relationship – by throwing dice or tossing coins, for example – is like choosing a ‘one night stand’ rather than a loving, life-long marriage.
1 The theory was, of course, that God would determine which way the dice fell, thereby disclosing His will.
2 A classic example of its use is given in 1 Sam xiv 1 – 48, esp.41
3 Peter’s conditions are laid down in Acts i 21,22