A few years ago, I was visiting a lady from our church (during what, alas, ended up being her final illness). A nurse left the hospital room and called back to the church lady: “Good luck!” And the church lady said to me in a half-whisper: “Lutherans don’t say ‘Good luck.’” And that’s generally true. Lutherans have trouble believing in both “luck” and “God’s will.”
Oddly enough, there’s a scene in the 2006 “Luther” film where Blessed Martin Luther meets a young apprentice carpenter and calls out to him: “Luck to you!” In the very next scene, the apprentice is found hanging by a rope, so Luther’s cry of “luck” did not work out well. (The scene is fictional—the filmmakers included it as a way of bringing Luther’s rather charitable sentiments on suicide into the movie). I doubt if Luther would have actually wished anyone “good luck”—but would rather have said: “God bless you.”
A blessing is a gift from a loving, fatherly God; “luck” is a nameless, faceless, impersonal force. Therefore Christians talk about “blessing” rather than “luck.” Luck is determined, in the human imagination, by all kinds of random things: a rabbit’s foot, breaking a mirror, a four-leaf clover, a horseshoe, walking under a ladder. In the TV show “Yellowstone,” there’s a scene in which a young ranch hand is given a new hat. He unthinkingly lays the hat on his bunk…causing the other cowboys to cry out, “Don’t put a hat on the bed! It’s bad luck!” When he experiences a mishap or two, the young ranch hand wonders: “What can I do to get rid of the bad luck from the hat?” The head wrangler point blank tells him: “There’s no such thing as luck.” True! Why would something as random as a hat on a bed bring down calamity? Our lives are not shaped by rabbits’ feet and hats on beds. They are shaped by the will, the plan, the blessings of a loving God.
There was a popular book that rode high on The New York Times bestseller list for many months: When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner. Kushner wrote the book out of genuine pain: his son had a disease that accelerated the aging process, so that the lad died at the age of 14 in a 90-year-old body. This caused the rabbi to struggle with God’s will and God’s goodness. His conclusion: God is not all powerful. God is not almighty. God is limited. There are things beyond His control. He never wishes us anything but good—but He is not powerful enough to turn away bad things from us. However, the rabbi concluded, He is present with us to help us through the bad things He cannot control.
Why do bad things happen, then, if God has nothing to do with it? I was rather shocked when the rabbi answered that question with: “Bad luck.” As much as I respect the rabbi’s pain and grief, I think it’s terrible to replace “God’s will” with “bad luck.”
If my problems and burdens are simply “bad luck,” then they really don’t have a lot of meaning. They aren’t God’s will; they might as well come from a hat on a bed. To me it’s really heartbreaking to think that my burdens have nothing to do with God—at least if they come from God, there is a hidden purpose. If I believe that God’s will and plan, and not luck, rule the world, then I can say: “This burden, this challenge brings a blessing with it because it comes from God.” But if my burdens and problems are simply “bad luck,” then there is no blessing there.
A lot of bad things happened to Job in the Bible. Loss of property, wealth, family, health. Job had a lot of bad luck. But it was not “bad luck” at all. God permitted Job to be afflicted. It was a terrible trial of Job’s faith to endure such hardships. But in the end God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, and his relationship with God was deepened. The calamities Job experienced ultimately brought blessing.
So even the negative things in life bring a blessing with them. And certainly the positive things, the joyful things, come to us from a loving God. Everything comes to us from God. Luck, good or bad, has nothing to do with it. One of the most beloved passages from the Bible tells us this: “God works everything for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 3:28) That passage does not leave any room for luck.
The Cross, as always, sheds a lot of light on this issue. On one level, we might look at the crucified Lord and say: “Wow. There’s a guy whose luck ran out.” But we know that it was not “bad luck” that put Jesus on the cross. It was God’s plan to save us. And realizing that Christ has died to take away our sins, to bring us forgiveness, we might be tempted to say: “Lucky us!” But again, luck has nothing to do with it. We are blessed because God loves us and sent His Son for us! The cross also reminds us that God understands our pain and knows what it feels like. That, too, is a blessing—knowing that when I hurt, physically or emotionally, the crucified Christ is with me as someone who has walked a mile in my shoes.
One of the most beloved jokes of all time goes like this: A man is looking for a lost dog. He encounters someone on the street, and says, “Would you be on the lookout for my lost dog? He’s missing an ear, he’s blind in one eye, he only has half a tail, and he’s missing a leg.” “Sure,” the other man says. “What’s your dog’s name?” And the dog owner replies: “Lucky.”
Whatever joys or burdens, whatever happiness or challenges might be in our lives, we who walk in God’s love will always call ourselves… not “Lucky”…but “Blessed.” And we will sing…not “Luck, Be a Lady Tonight”… but “God, You Will Bless Me Tonight!”