The dictionary definition of luck is: "the seemingly chance happening of events that affect someone." What we dub "Luck" (whether good or bad) is our interpretation of life's randomness. The term "kingdom of God" is a mistranslation of the expression basileia tou theou (reign of God). Basileia is a word properly translated a "royal reign"; it describes the extent of kingly influence—in this case the effective reach of God's rule. Basileia does not describe a specific geographical territory, but rather refers to a king's influence over his subjects, those under his rule. Being in the kingdom of God is accepting God's rule over one's self.
I was surprised, then, to hear a Baptist preacher exclaim last week: "There ain't no Luck in the kingdom of God!" On the basis of the definitions above, his affirmation on its face would seem to be that chance happenings do not affect one who has accepted God's rule. The difficulty with the minister's statement is that all human beings (Christian and non-Christian) live in a world that is obviously under the control of Powers, natural, political, commercial, etc., that are obviously not under the influence of God's rule.1 Even Paul's disciple, the author of Ephesians seemed to recognize that hostile powers are indigenous to our cosmos:
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12, NRSV).
Christians do not yet live in a "territory" that is under God's control, but in a territory largely hostile to all human beings, even though some may already have accepted God's rule over themselves. This already/not yet ambiguity explains the Christian's present situation: the kingdom of God is a future reality (Rom 6:9; 15:24, 50; Gal 5:21), even though one may now be experiencing its benefits (Mark 1:15; Rom 14:17). In short, human beings live in a hostile world where surprisingly good things or depressingly bad things can unexpectedly happen to any of us. Even Christians might win the lottery.
During the Hellenistic Period of Classical antiquity (323-33 BCE) there was a tendency for the Greeks and Romans to personify abstract concepts. They turned the concept of luck or fortune into the capricious Goddess, Tychē. Her existence was a recognition of their universal experience that one's fortunes (or luck) in life could never be controlled or predicted.2
From my perspective a belief in luck is simply a recognition of a natural law, something like gravity in the physical sciences. This law may be simply stated as follows: "the unexpected sometimes happens." The most carefully laid plans or intentions are always subject to this law. We describe it popularly from our perspective as good or bad luck, meaning that it was unexpected.
The minister seemed to think that Christians are exempt from this natural law, but even certain writers of the New Testament seem cognizant of life's unexpected and sometimes turbulent ups and downs, particularly the downs—for example, Paul's life experiences as he described them.3 The author of First Peter cautioned the exiles in the "Dispersion" (1 Pet 1:1) "not to be surprised" at the unexpected "fiery trial" that had overtaken them (1 Pet 4:12). Stuff, both good and bad, happened to the early followers of Jesus as well. The universal cosmic law of the unexpected applies to all for whom the law of gravity applies. Apparently, not everything that happens is what God wants to happen.
Missouri State University
1See Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019): "Natural Disasters, Acts of God, and the Bible," 26-28; "Chance, Luck, Randomness, and the Being of God," 28-30, "Does Anything Happen by Chance?," 30-33.
2Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3rd ed.; Eerdman's, 2003), 242.
3Here are only a few of the passages from his letters describing his own personal ups and downs in life, particularly the downs: Rom 8:18, 35-39; 1 Cor 4:11-13; 1 Cor 1:3-11; 11;23-27.