Monday, November 24, 2014

Please Don't Call It "Dumb Luck"

Some of you remember the '80's TV series Thirtysomething.  I was in my thirties for about half of that decade, so I watched the show now and then.  I remember one episode in particular.  Elliot's wife Nancy is stricken with cancer.  After surgery and a series of treatments, they do more testing to determine if the cancer is arrested and Nancy is healed.  During those three or four days, Eliot spends a great deal of time in prayer.  Elliot is not a particularly religious man.  Like so many people who are thirty-something, most of his faith was from childhood.  In these intervening years he had drifted away from the church and forgotten God. But in spite of that, Elliot spends a great deal of time in prayer in the hospital.  He tries praying in the chapel.  He tries praying in a stairwell.  But the place where he seems most comfortable in his prayers is in a hospital restroom, shut up in a stall, one foot on the toilet, his head in his hands in agonizing prayer … "O God, please heal Nancy.  Please make her well.  I don't know what I would do without her.  She's a good person, God.  Please heal her.  And if you'll heal her, I promise that I will never forget you again.  Never."

A few scenes later, we find out the good news: Nancy is healed.  All the cancer is gone.  So they quickly get a party together in his wife's hospital room.  Their closest friends attend.  And amid the celebration, one of Elliot's friends says to him, "Elliot, man, this is incredibly good news.  I can't believe it.  The cancer is gone.  How do you explain it?"

"Dumb luck, I guess," said Elliot.  "Just plain dumb luck."

The reason I remember that episode so well is because Elliot’s comment really ticked me off.  “Dumb luck.”  Are you kidding me?  You prayed and you prayed and you prayed.  God answered.  And you had the nerve to call it “dumb luck”?  The reason that lights my fire is because I’ve seen that too many times as a pastor.  Here’s just one example: Matt is cleaning his shotgun.  He thought it was unloaded.  It wasn’t.  It went off.  It nearly cost him his left eye.  It could have cost him his life.  Matt had been an on and off church attender up to this time.  When I visited him in the hospital he said, “Pastor, I could have been killed.  I should have been killed.  But God spared me for a reason.  And soon as I get well I’ll be in church every Sunday.  I’ll be a new man.  And I'll never forget God again.”  Matt got well.  He attended church a couple of times.  And we never saw Matt again.

I wonder how he told this story in years to come.  How did he explain the scar?  Did he attribute the sparing of his life to God or to dumb luck?  How quickly we forget the mercies and kindness and blessings of God.

As we enter another Thanksgiving season, I encourage you to take stock of your blessings—past and present.  Please don’t call them “dumb luck.”  As W. W. Davies writes, "The Greek word for 'luck' occurs quite often in Greek and Roman literature.  The Greeks believed deeply in the power and pervasiveness of luck.  Interestingly, that word appears nowhere in the entire New Testament."

Maybe you have good health, a stable job, a happy family, a productive life, a good church.  Maybe you enjoy good friends, enough to eat, a roof over your head, and a vehicle to drive.  Maybe you’re on the backside of a difficult season in your life.  Maybe you’ve come through many dangers, toils, and snares, and lived to tell about it.  Perhaps you could list a few answered prayers and couple of times when God appeared to intervene in your life and change a scary thing into a good thing.  Call these things blessings.  Call them gifts.  Call them grace.  But please don’t call them dumb luck.

O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever! (Ps. 136:1)

Happy Thanksgiving!