I loved studying statistics during my undergraduate degree. Actually to be truthful I hated statistics after the first test of my second semester of statistics but that changed back to love again after I figured out what I wasn’t understanding. I learned a great deal from the general and business statistic classes that I took as a student at the University of South Alabama (yeah the initials of the school I attended are U.S.A.) that I still use today. Even as a pastor there is a great deal that I learn in those classes that I regularly use. One such lesson was the difference between possibility/chance and probability. Let me talk about example right now.
Every now and then I hear the following statement …
You can be a Christian without regularly being a part of a church.
You can add other statements such as “You can be a Christian without caring for the weak,” “reading your bible,” “praying, ” “forgiving those who hurt you,” etc., etc. The problem I have with the above statements is that they mistake “can” (possibility) with “will” (probability). Such statements use a theoretical possibility to dismiss the personal probability and faith always has a personal element to it. Can you be a Christian, someone who professes Jesus as their Lord and is trying to follow Him as their Lord (Romans 10:9), without regularly being a part of a church? Sure, though I think you would have a hard time figuring out how to live out the instruction in Hebrews to not giving up gathering together. The question shouldn’t be “can” you be a Christian without regularly being a part of a church but “will” you? Again my definition of being a Christian isn’t someone who just thinks Jesus existed and the bible is a good (but often unread) book. Nope my understanding of being a Christian comes from Jesus calling His disciples to come follow Him. So the question shouldn’t be “can you,” a theoretical discussion that doesn’t affect your live, but “will you,” a practical discussion of what is most likely based on your actions.
Since I believe faith experiences shouldn’t be separated from what we understand from our normal life experiences I will give you two life examples of the can versus will fallacy. I take great pride in my marriage and family. I work hard at being a loving husband and a good dad. Can I be a good husband/dad with out intentionally working on being one? Yep sure can. I theoretically could have a great relationship with Pam and the boys without ever spending much time with them. Yet the practical truth is that while I can have successful family relationships without effort the probability of it happening that way isn’t very great. If I don’t spend regular large amounts of time with Pam and the boys I probably won’t have good relationships with them. It doesn’t matter that it can happen. What matters is will it happen.
Another example comes from running. Can I run and finish a marathon without training for it? Again, yep sure can. The reality, however, is that without large amounts of time training for a marathon I probably won’t ever start to run one let alone finish it.
As I have been saying, possibility and probability are two different things. This is true is so much of life and faith. Can you do something or not do something and effectively follow Christ? The answer is usually yes that is a possibility. That doesn’t mean it is probable though. I am much more concerned with probability than I am possibility. I want to do the things that most help to follow Christ. I hope you do too.