After Judas’ betrayal and death, another disciple needed to be named to keep the number at twelve. In the Acts lesson appointed for today (Acts 1:15-26), Peter suggests to the faithful believers assembled after Jesus’ ascension that they be the ones who choose the twelfth disciple. “They cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.”
We hear this phrase, “they cast lots” and might think–are they simply rolling dice, tossing a coin, waiting to see who draws the short straw? Shouldn’t they take this more seriously?
But as an ancient and revered tradition, casting lots is the serious way. In Leviticus, the method is used to separate the scapegoat from the goat being sacrificed. In the book of Numbers, it’s used to divide the Promised Land among the Israelites. Even the sailors on Jonah’s boat cast lots to figure out who was responsible for the storm at sea. In I Chronicles, lots were used to determine who was to receive which temple service.
The biblical example with which we are probably most familiar is when the soldiers at the foot of the cross cast lots for Jesus’ clothing. This is one of many examples though; lots were also drawn for musicians, gatekeepers and all sorts of household chores.
My five-year-old daughter casts lots to decide nearly everything–what book to read at bedtime, which shoes to wear to school and what drink she’ll enjoy at dinner. Her preferred method? The timeless “Eenie Meenie Miney Mo.”
My seven-year-old son is always quick to suggest “Rock Paper Scissors” when I ask the two of them to set the table, fold napkins or choose a movie to watch on Netflix. Both children fully believe in this process. To them, there is no chance involved.
The Israelites didn’t see casting lots as a game of chance either. They saw it as a revelation of God’s will. Per the book of Proverbs, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Casting of lots was considered totally impartial–completely untouched by politics, favoritism or nepotism.
Throughout the Bible we see people of faith casting lots as outward and visible signs of God’s will. Casting lots was sacramental. Today people are quick to attribute things to luck, chance or coincidence, but what if it’s instead God’s hand at work?
How would trusting in the casting of lots change your decision making process? Would it allow you to more easily see God at work in your life? Or would it veer too much into pre-destination and the abdication of your own freedom to choose?
As someone who struggles with over-functioning, over-thinking and over-rationalizing, the idea of casting lots to make decisions feels liberating to me. Perhaps I’ll ask my son to play a round of “Rock Paper Scissors” to help me decide when to use it next.
Have you ever cast lots to make choices?