The Sea of Chance and Natural Disasters

Tanya, thought-provoking observations. I am having coffee and watching Saturday morning PBS, so this is no doctoral dissertation but… just now I remember Jesus’s comment about the tower of Siloam and also Solomon’s comments about everything being chance and circumstance. Moses Maimonides even coined a term “divine-overflow” to denote those rare times when God’s will interacts with the causal matrix.

Jesus taught that death can come upon anyone, regardless of how sinful they are. He went on to teach that the need for all people to repent is the true lesson from such tragedies.

With Islamic philosophers before him, Maimonides describes the active intellect as an overflow from God which overflows onto humans, giving them knowledge and leading them towards perfection. Expositing the Psalms 36:10 verse, “For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light light do we see light,” Maimonides explains that

through the overflow of the intellect that has overflowed from Thee [i.e., God], we intellectually cognize, and consequently we receive correct guidance, we draw inferences, and we apprehend the intellect.


…providence watches over everyone endowed with intellect proportionately to the measure of his intellect…The providence of God, may He be exalted, is constantly watching over those who have obtained this overflow…For the thing that necessarily brings about providence and deliverance from the sea of chance consists in that intellectual overflow.

We may compare all this with Thornton Wilder’s novel

This following link is a good discussion of chance and divine will, though it does not precisely express what I think I remember from my readings:

Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 states, “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.”

God’s sovereignty involves two aspects. God’s active will or sovereignty would involve something He causes to happen such as the leading of wicked king Ahab into battle (2 Chronicles 18:18-19). Ahab’s death was not merely the result of a randomly shot arrow, but as 2 Chronicles 18 reveals, God actively directed the events that led Ahab into battle and used that randomly shot arrow to accomplish His intended will for Ahab that day.

God’s passive will involves Him allowing, rather than causing, something to happen. Chapter1 of the Book of Job illustrates this in what God allowed Satan to do in the life of Job. It is also involved in the evil that God allowed Joseph’s brothers to do to Joseph in order to accomplish a greater good, a good not apparent to Joseph until years later (Genesis 50:20).

MY COMMENT: When Joseph’s brothers come to him to ask forgiveness, Joseph says “You intended evil but God transformed your evil into good.” (paraphrased)

Perhaps I should close this post by quoting John Travolta’s line from “The Taking of Pelham 123” – “Everyone owes God a death.” There are some deaths or assassinations which have major consequences (such as King Ahab) and there are other deaths which are left to random chance since the human will does not see good and evil (or anangke/necessity) from the perspective of the divine will.


Here is a scriptural example of the belief that some things are by the divine will while others are simply chance:

1 Samuel 6:9 (New American Standard Bible)

“Watch, if it goes up by the way of its own territory to (A)Beth-shemesh, then He has done us this great evil But if not, then (B)we will know that it was not His hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance.”


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