SUNDAY BEFORE LENT
God Does Play Dice
1Corinthians 13.11 When I
was a child, my speech, feelings and thinking were those of a child. Now
that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways.
Einstein rejected unpredictability as an element in the scheme of things.
"God does not play dice," he exclaimed when faced with the proposal that
uncertainty lies at the root of the physical world.
He was the
product of an outlook which regards the universe as ultimately neatly
ordered. It follows from this that if we can find out in detail how it
works, we should be able to eliminate the unexpected.
In contrast, for
millennia people have experienced life as high-risk. Their survival was
constantly under threat. Life was short and often far from sweet. War and
famine were a constant. Until the modern age, only about two out of every
ten children survived into adulthood.
The huge and growing population of
our tiny planet witnesses to far greater certainty and security today.
Millions now look forward to a long life. Much illness and injury can be
treated. Children grow and mature where before they perished.
And then -
along comes a natural disaster such as the tsunami of
Christmastide, 2004. In a few short hours people around the globe
recognise that they are still helpless subjects of a God who plays dice
with human lives. A unpredictable slippage of the earth's crust ends their
illusion of relative security.
There are a variety of responses to God's
tendency to gamble. Some in Indonesia proclaim that God is punishing
corruption by foreign tourists. Others call for a better warning system.
Yet others absorb the blow and get on with their lives. They mourn the
dead and repair the roof.
That is, human beings respond to apparently
random disaster as they have always done. There seems no other way.
Nevertheless, Christians have a problem. God is traditionally supposed to
be like a loving father. As Jesus himself is reputed to have said, "Would
any of you who are fathers give your son a stone when he asks for bread?
Or would you give him a snake when he asks for an eel?" 
Loving concern for people and playing dice with their lives don't go
What then? Do we rage at random suffering and death? Do we
cower and supplicate? Or do we act miffed and cut ourselves off from God?
The temptation as Lent approaches is to slip into knee-jerk responses such
as abject repentance. It may be hoped that if we grovel, God will be
appeased. Or that if we discipline ourselves now with fasting and prayer,
we'll fail less in days to come. Some may even hope that giving up
something they enjoy will somehow cancel out a past error or two.
these are all shallow reactions. They resemble the way a child evaluates
cause and effect in his or her life. Jesus of Nazareth proposed another,
more mature, reaction to life's uncomfortable realities.
seem as though God plays dice. That's only to be expected. The
more we get to know about the universe, the more mysterious it gets. The
reach of our minds is tiny by comparison to the depths of life.
approach to "blind nature" is summed up as trust. Believe whatever
hallowed doctrines you like. They will mutate and die. Seek refuge in cold
certainty. It will be melted by the facts of life. Go to church on
Sundays. Neither the building nor the institution will keep out God's
tsunami. Worry about the end of civilisation. It will pass away.
Rather, says Jesus, trust that God's creation is good. It will, after all,
endure far, far beyond the lifespan of the human race.
 (Matthew 7.9-10)