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Q: Is it advisable for a Christian to ‘flip a coin’ to make an important decision on something that God’s Word has not fully decided?”
A: The biblical counterpart to our “flip of the coin” was the casting of lots. Nations in antiquity, dating at least back to the time of Homer, used this method in order to settle answers to a variety of difficult questions. A vessel of some kind was used in which were placed small pebbles or inscribed items. When the vessel would be shaken, whatever object first fell out served to indicate the proper choice between two or more options.
Old Testament Israel regularly cast lots and did so with the Lord’s blessing. In Joshua’s day, the land of Canaan was divided among the twelve tribes by lot (Joshua, chapters 14 and 18). Even the periods of time during which the priests were responsible for their official duties were determined by lot (1 Chronicles 24:54). In Proverbs we read, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (16:33). Three other biblical incidents involving the drawing or casting of lots are known to every Sunday School student. In a negative context, lots determined that Jonah was responsible for a terrible storm (Jonah 1:7) and soldiers cast lots for ownership of a part of our Lord’s clothing. A positive example using lots occurred when the apostles cast lots for the successor of Judas (Acts 1).
In this last example, one should note that before the lots were cast where Matthias was chosen as one of the Twelve, the apostles preceded the drawing of lots with prayer. Praying to God that He would reveal His will in a matter not set forth in His Word received the emphasis. The method of casting lots was used by the apostles only in this context. This “prayerful” use of the lot was common both in the Old Testament era and in the days of the apostles.
What does this mean for us today? Should we insist on casting lots for choosing pastors (as some have done, such as the early Moravians)? Should we employ it to determine mission sites, career opportunities, schooling choices, and a host of other decisions? God has given no injunctions in His Word that imply such a wide scale use of “coin flipping.” After the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we find no suggestion that the apostles continued to cast lots in selecting pastoral leaders. Nor are the early Christians, to whom the apostles wrote, encouraged in this practice. Nor are we, the modern-day hears of the Word.
We cannot, however, forbid “coin-flipping” decisions when, upon prayerfully seeking the Lord’s guidance, one is faced with two equal alternatives, both of which appear to be God-pleasing. St. Paul wrote, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5: 15-17). One can know for sure what the Lord’s will is by examining carefully the Word of God. When God has not indicated His specific will on a choice of action (free of sin), believers in Christian freedom may at times resort to a toss of the coin with the understanding that God will bless them no matter which side is up or down. For God has promised “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).
On choosing a pastor to serve in a parish, Prof. Richard Balge gives good advice in his People’s Bible commentary on the book of Acts: “Sometimes it still happens that two men are equally qualified for a position of leadership in the church. When an election results in a tie it is proper to draw lots in some way to determine the Lord’s choice. In general, however, such choices should be made on the basis of knowledge, using sanctified common sense” (page 22).