Probability Defied

Probability Odds

Judges 7:2-8 NIV

The Lord said to Gideon, "You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, 'My own strength has saved me.' Now announce to the army, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'" So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. 

But the Lord said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go; but if I say, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go."

So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink." Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. 

The Lord said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home."

So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Matthew 19:16-26 NIV

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" 

"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." 

"Which ones?" he inquired.

Jesus replied, "'You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" 

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" 

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" 

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

The probability of success is determined mathematically by looking at the empirical ratio (number of successes)/(number of possibilities), where the number of successes and possibilities are taken from a theoretical sample space. For example, if you want to calculate the probability that you will roll a seven with a pair of distinct dice, you note that there are 6 ways to roll a seven (1-6, 2-5, 3-4, 4-3, 5-2, and 6-1) from among all the 36 possible combinations. So the probability of rolling a seven is 6/36 or 1/6. This ratio is always a number between 0 and 1, inclusive. The larger the number in this interval, the more likely the event is to occur. Less likely events have a smaller number in the interval.

God is able to beat the odds, however. He proved to Gideon that this is the case by systematically eliminating a large portion of his fighting men, selecting only 300 out of 32,000 to fight the Midianites.  Jesus also used probabilities to teach his disciples. He says in Matthew 19:24 that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." [Note: some Biblical scholars take the eye of the needle to be a small but busy gate into the city of Jerusalem.] So, the probability of salvation for a rich man is given as very small. He comforts his disciples in verse 26 of the same chapter by letting them know that God is more powerful than probabilities---"with God all things are possible."