The longer I live — yesterday was my birthday — the more I come to realize how much of life is affected by luck.
Let’s begin with life itself. Whether one lives to 62 — or to 92 (my father’s age) — and whether in health or in sickness is largely a matter of luck.
I strongly believe in taking care of one’s health, but for most people, living long and in good health is a matter of good luck.
My wife’s sister died of cancer at 35. The brother of my radio show’s producer died of a brain tumor at 57. Friends of mine lost their son at the age of 13.
None of these people had done anything “wrong.” Whether you get a brain tumor is much the same as whether you win at roulette. Either the ball falls on your number or it doesn’t.
The subject of the role of luck — good or bad — depresses many people. And well it should. To realize how much happens to us that is not in our control is at least sobering. And some reject it outright.
Some people — many who believe in karma or various expressions of New Age thought, for example — believe that everything that happens to us we bring upon ourselves. Even if we are hit by a drunk driver, we somehow caused it.
That, of course, is irrational. And it is even cruel, as it causes some people to blame themselves for suffering they had no hand in.
On the other hand, many religious people resent the notion of the role of luck since it seems to minimize the power of God in this world.
As a religious person myself, I reject this outlook. Are we to believe that God chose every one of Mao’s 75 million victims to die? That He willed the deaths of six million Jews in the Holocaust? That every person who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease or multiple sclerosis was chosen by God to suffer until death?
That may indeed be the case. But for those of us who do not believe in such a God — and I respect those who do — all these people simply had terrible luck. I am alive because my grandparents came to America instead of staying in Eastern Europe, where they would have almost certainly been murdered in the Holocaust. They were lucky. And if one insists that they were wise rather than lucky — that somehow they realized that calamity awaited them in Russia and Poland — then my parents and I were lucky that they were wise.
There is not enough space in a column for a discussion of theodicy, the problem of reconciling a good God with unjust suffering. Suffice it to say, then, that I believe God exists, that He is just, that for reasons I cannot understand He made a world in which injustice abounds, that He knows every one of us, and that He works out these injustices in an afterlife.