October 3, 2003

Odds We Live and Die By
by Donald G. Mashburn

We take too much for granted. When we turn in at night, we assume we’ll awake in the morning and the next day will be about like today. But that may not be.

When we get in our car to go to work or the grocery store, there’s no guarantee we’ll reach our destination. Last year, 42,815 people lost their lives in vehicle accidents in the United States, according to government statistics. Another government agency, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), recently released its huge 2003 report with some related and unrelated statistics on the risks we face trying to stay alive.

The odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are 1 in 6,700. But, adjusted for the estimated 198,000 licensed drivers in the United States, the chances of dying in an auto accident are about 1 in 4,600.

Government figures also indicate your odds of being struck by lightning are about 1 in 555,000. Of course, being government data, no allowance is made for either intelligence or stupidity.

The data don’t identify lightning strikes of people doing dumb things in a thunderstorm, like taking shelter under the biggest tree in the area, or being caught out in the open on a ridge, slope or other area where your body is the tallest “lightning rod” around.

If the lightning strike data could be adjusted for dumb decisions made by the “strikees,” the chances of being hit by lightning would be quite low for people taking normal precautions, and correspondingly higher for hikers in open country, and golfers that just have to finish the round before the “main storm” hits.

Published odds on drowning in a given year are 1 in 68,000. But that doesn’t take into account people who never go boating, swim in lakes and streams, or who stay in the shallow end of the pool. These would all have a lower probability of needlessly proving all over again that man is an air breathing being.

Compare these odds with winning the Florida lottery, 1 in 22,957,480, published on the lottery’s Web site. Many statisticians believe the odds are worse, but using the lottery’s own numbers, you are 40 times more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to win the lottery.

We can only wonder why lottery players would ever be so careless as to wander onto a golf course, hike a mountain trail, or venture out in their cars.

There are no guarantees in life. We can do nothing to assure we’ll be a “winner,” and ultimately, we can’t control life or the world around us. Only God, who made and controls it all, can provide any assurance of what happens while we’re here, or after we leave here.

Statistical methods and the laws of probability are useful for many purposes, and have found their way into decision making in business, military operations and government planning. But we can’t compute the probabilities of life, or our exit from it.

From a personal standpoint, however, it’s useful to consider our chances of getting out of this world alive. They’re zero – as we’ve been told already by the One who controls all outcomes, statistical or otherwise.

That is, unless we’re still alive when the Rapture comes, and the Lord takes us home to be with Him forever. Even then, those who have tickets out of here will be only those who have believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He paid our sin debt on the cross, and have accepted Him as Savior and Lord.

For those who have not believed, their chances of getting out of here alive are zilch. As in zero, zip, nada. As in tough tacos and adios, for eternity.

But if you have believed in Him who died to save you, there’s a 100-percent probability you’ve got a reserved first class seat on the most glorious flight you’ll ever take.