Does God speak through randomness?

September 1, 2010 | 62 comments

Or, What’s up with seeking guidance by opening the Bible to a random page?

Photo by Matthew Rogers

One of the things I’ve never gotten clarity on is whether or not it’s recommended that Christians seek answers from God through chance, e.g. opening the Bible to a random page and reading whatever you first lay your eyes on, or rolling dice and choosing a certain path depending on which number comes up.

At first I assumed that this must be a categorically bad idea because:

  • It seems like it’s an attempt to boss God around somehow, like you’re demanding that he answer you at a specific time and in a specific way.
  • God gave us the ability to reason, so why set it aside in favor of random chance?
  • If this were an acceptable thing to do, presumably it would be acceptable all the time, in which case we could make every decision this way: what to eat for dinner, whom to marry, what types of medical treatments to use could all be decided by opening the Bible to random pages…which doesn’t sound right.

On the other hand, the 11 Apostles did cast lots to determine who would replace Judas. St. Augustine famously recounted having a transforming experience after he opened the Bible to a random page and happened across a line in Romans 13. I can see that at least such an act is done is the spirit of the renunciation of self-centered willfulness and a desire to be obedient — so maybe God would bless that?

I admit it, I’ve done it. I’ve felt stuck on some discernment issue and just opened the Bible to a random page. Sometimes there’s nothing remotely relevant there, though there have been quite a few times when I got some uncanny answer that seemed to be beyond coincidence.

But is this something I’m supposed to be doing? Is it a bad idea? A good idea? I have no clue. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Stephanie

    I think the two examples you gave are completely different from one another. On the one hand, I have found that opening up the Bible randomly (or a prayer/reflections book) has been a fruitful and enlightening experience. I don’t test God during these times to answer a question, it’s more about me being open to Him speaking to me in that way.

    The rolling the dice is different in that I do think it is forcing God to make a decision at that moment (and who is to say that He actually is). I have never done something like this, and don’t think I would. I wouldn’t judge those who do, but, like I said, I think these are two extreme cases of “randomness.”

  2. Wolf Paul

    Have you heard the story of the man who was seeking God’s will in this way?

    He opened his Bible, pointed
    his finger and read, “And Judas went and hanged himself.”

    The man thought, that can’t be right! and tried again. This time when he opened his eyes his finger was pointing to the verse that reads, “Go thou and do likewise.”

    • Bill

      Now that’s funny!

  3. Robyn Broyles

    Bad idea. You might happen upon a gem or you might not.

    EXAMPLE: Lord, should I volunteer to teach catechism to the 6 year olds this year?

    RANDOM BIBLE VERSE ANSWER: Joshua 13:24 “And Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of the Gadites, according to their families.”

    Not real clear, that.

    ANOTHER EXAMPLE: What is your will for me, Lord?

    RANDOM BIBLE VERSE ANSWER: Ephesians 5:17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

    Kinda insulting, actually.

    Perhaps more helpful would be to choose a book or chapter that seems at least peripherally relevant to your question, and practice the Lectio Divina on it.

  4. Jen

    My two cents: It’s best to be a student of the Word. Read it thoroughly, daily, critically, prayerfully, with pen in hand to capture things the Holy Spirit draws to your attention. Then, it isn’t necessary to approach the Bible so randomly. I’m always amazed by Christians so well versed in Christian literature, but not the actual Bible–as if it’s difficult to understand. It’s God’s love letter to us–meant to be understood and apprehended:)
    If there are topical type questions, a good concordance (Vine’s or Strong’s) or a Nave’s Topical Bible are excellent resources.

    And rolling the dice…well, if you pray and seek the Lord and He tells you that’s the very best way to discern His will….well, I would just be surprised:) Not sure He’s really into that “Magic 8 Ball” approach to decision making:)

  5. bearing

    The apostles cast lots to figure out who would replace Judas because the Holy Spirit hadn’t come down to them yet.

  6. Courtney F.

    I am kind of torn on this issue myself. It seems to be a popular practice among Protestant friends of mine, but FWIW, I only seem to hear about it when the verse that turned up was relevant or favorable to the decision the person was already toying with.

    That said, I have tried this in times of trouble, but more for solace or insight into a situation, rather than a direct yes-or-no answer to a question. I also don’t adhere rigidly to pure randomness–for example, if I wind up in the middle of a bunch of “begats”, I’ll flip around until something arrests my attention.

  7. Jaimie

    I think you’re over-thinking it. It’s not black and white, right or wrong. It’s arbitrary. You want to do it? Do it. You obviously understand God isn’t obligated to answer you.

  8. Erin

    God speaks all the time, the question is whether or not we’re listening. Sometimes, it happens through random events, but I think in the case of St. Augustine, he wasn’t looking for something – it just happened to come up when he saw it.

    When we play darts with the Scriptures, we’re treating the verses as discreet points and not part of a larger whole, and often, we’re even trying to convince ourselves of what God is trying to say through the verse that our dart happened to land on. When it comes to Scripture, we need to be taking it as a whole, which is something I didn’t do enough of as a Protestant.

    WRT choosing Judas’ replacement, I tend to think that they stacked the deck to begin with. There were requirements to even be in that group – you had to have followed Jesus from the beginning, and I think they had to have a decent sense of whether or not they could trust the people in the casting lots group. So the lots became a matter of, “Okay, we’ve got it down to these, which one, God?”

  9. Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    Seems like a bad idea to me. Whether or not God is guiding you to the appropriate selection, I certainly have no doubt that most people can interpret something out of anything (see most of postmodern literary theory). Although your bible study may be of help, this method seems likely to imbue trivial or wrongheaded interpretations with the authority of God’s intervention.

    –Leah @

  10. Emily D.

    Well, my best friend, who is now in formation to be a Dominican friar, says *nothing* is truly random (he was also a math and physics major, so order and logic is his thing). I tend to agree with this.
    As this pertains to the general question, though: I agree that lectio is the way to go. And the One Big Bang Over The Head moment I’ve had re: scripture and my life was through ordinary reading: I opened it to the reading for the day and baboom! Kick in the head.
    So if you are a student of the Word, if you immerse yourself in it, it will speak to you, and God through it. I don’t really think the “random” opening will always work–what if you get a genealogy?!

  11. Jeff Miller

    As with most things in the spiritual life it depends. This can be done in a superstitious way as if you are being guided to a verse. If you randomly pick a verse and read it for inspiration, that would be just fine since pretty much you can do this with most verses.

    If you think you are being inspired to do this and the verse is helpful then as long as the proper discernment is used it is no problem. As St. Paul would say test all things.

  12. David Marciniak

    Okay, here is a confession. The kids and I (got nine of ’em) played a game with the radio. Whenever Mother Angelica was on we would turn the sound down and say, “the next message is for…Emily! Or Jacob, or whoever. I would then turn up the sound and we would hear Mother say something…and usually we would end up laughing hysterically when she would be saying, “that’s just no good” or “you need to get it together” or some other colloquialism she is famous for. A great trick when waiting for Mom in Wegman’s parking lot…anyway, don’t take this too seriously. Scripture is good, random or not. We just need to be open to God’s message. Sometimes it comes randomly, but mostly that’s because we weren’t paying attention.

  13. Matt G

    There was a priest I once saw giving an interview about his decision to enter seminary. He felt the call but didn’t want to follow it. One night he was praying and asked God, “Do you really want me to be a priest!?”. He opened his Bible randomly to Psalm 110: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: you are a priest forever.” He was a little freaked out and decided to himself that it was just a fluke. He’d try again. This time he opened a little less randomly and was sure to stay near the end of the Bible. He opened to Hebrews quoting psalms: “You are a priest forever”.

    So it’s clear that God can and will use methods like that to reach people where they are. But the priest did admit that it’s not something he’d ever recommend. Once it occurs to us that this may not be the best, most reliable way of discerning God’s will, it’s time to move on. In a way, using this method as opposed to less immediate ones reveals a lack of trust that God will reveal Himself to us on His own time. God may still oblige us if it’s the only way that we will hear Him, but we lose an opportunity to grow in holiness and humility through patient discernment.

  14. Catholic Poet

    I did this now and then during my years as an evangelical protestant. Once or twice I got what seemed to me to be a very deep and profound answer as if God were speaking directly to me. Other times the verse was clearly not relevent.

    Looking back after some years away and my conversion to Catholicism, I suspect (I know a lot less for sure these days) that the times I heard from God were times when my heart was open to the Holy Spirt and since I had stumbled upon an appropriate passage, He took the opportunity to soften my heart with the Word. Other times might have been those “I don’t really want to hear it” times or there just wasn’t anything useful on those pages.

    It’s sort of like finding something that’s lost. Strangely, it’s always in the last place you look. Likewise, if we are open to hearing God, He will find some way to speak to us, and if the Bible verse doesn’t match, then He’ll use the next thing that comes along.

  15. Amy

    If I might be so bold…

    I think we all seek signs or omens to some extent, applying them in retrospect to back up whatever view we have formed (confirmation bias). At least, I did this a lot, and probably still do to some extent, but I would say I did it more when I was in a religious mindset. God doesn’t speak out loud in a voice everyone can hear, we don’t get handwritten notes from God that we can hang on our refrigerators saying, “Jennifer, do this,” because God, if God exists, is hidden in certain respects even to believers (which happens to be one of the problems I have with religions).

    We can follow our hearts, but sometimes our hearts mislead us. Emotions are dependent on all sorts of things–how much sleep we’ve had, how much sugar we have been consuming, what a co-worker (or commenter πŸ˜‰ ) said to us the hour before, something we saw on the news, the fact that we got a flat tire/won the lottery, etc., and in women’s cases, what day it is in our cycle.

    We can follow our reason, asking various questions aimed at clarifying our motivations/desires, making pro/con lists, etc., but reason has a tendency to lead different people in different directions, and some people just aren’t as good at reasoning as others.

    We can ask for advice from a mentor, but the people giving the advice have agendas of their own, often without being aware of it.

    I would think that if god wanted us to choose a specific path in a given situation, God would use a combination of the above–in our heart, one choice would feel more “right.” In our minds, that same choice would appear to be the most reasonable. In conversation with someone we respect and admire, the advice given would line up the the other two.

    I think the answers we seek lie within us (and you could say that the answers lie with the Holy Spirit which lies within you πŸ˜‰ ), and if we can’t see a clear answer to a specific issue, maybe it’s because either choice is the “right,” one, either one is fine with God.

    And even if, after all that, you end up making the wrong choice, you will surely discover that, and you’ll learn something in the process.

    Of course, the Magic 8 Ball (casting lots, looking up random passages) can be fun, too!

  16. Julia

    My #1 prayer is usually, “Lord, I’m a little dense. If you have a preference on this, could you make it REALLY clear?”

    But then, I’m the sort who wants a flashing neon sign pointing out which way to go, rather than a piddling little lantern for my feet.

  17. Becca Balmes

    I see doing this as somewhat akin to praying to St. Anthony for something you’ve lost. It’s not really St. Anthony who points out the thing to you, it’s the Holy Spirit (or your Guardian Angel?)… likewise, it’s not truly random if you’re allowing your eyes to focus on a passage the Holy Spirit is calling you towards. It doesn’t work every time, just like requests to St. Anthony doesn’t work every time, but when it does it’s often uncanny. I doubt very much whether God looks askance at ANY kind of attempts at discernment of His will! As long as we treat Scripture with respect (approaching this method of discernment with prayer to God asking for His guidance), and not like a fortune cookie or a horoscope, I think it’s a matter of personal preference just like any kind of spiritual exercise or personal prayer method.

  18. Debbie

    I have a friend that calls it “Bible Roulette!”

  19. Elizabeth@GoodnessAdded

    I have never had any luck with the random scripture search. Mine are always totally unrelated to my problem. The best we can do I think is trust in God and He will provide the answers eventually. That is the trouble isn’t it – eventually – I lack patience and want to know it all now. Isn’t there a print He could give me with all the choices I should make for the rest of my life? Sadly, no. That is not how it works.

  20. Rachel

    I always figured this was a very bad idea. Then I heard the story of a Catholic man who dated a non-Christian woman for a few years. He loved her and wanted to marry her, but he was getting more serious about his faith and a choice had to be made. So he did the random Bible thing, and his finger fell on the one verse that could have made him change his mind: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” It now seems clear to me that not marrying was the right choice for them both.

  21. Christina

    I think with the disciples choosing they first narrowed it down quite a bit, and even then I suppose the random cast could have been a draw (as in you guys decide).

    Usually when scripture stands out to me it’s something I was supposed to read that day anyway (or not supposed to – one day I read the wrong day’s prayers from the LOTH and it was exactly what I needed). But generally it’s when I’m open to God directing me by the way he chooses that such insights come.

    I can’t help but think of the “random open bible to give me answer” as using it like a Ouiji board – in that you are trying to discern knowledge that God hasn’t given to you yet.

  22. Marian

    I just believe that God is God and he will not be boxed in by our theories about how He should speak, or when, or to whom!
    God has spoken to me in random scripture, in stranger’s comments, even in the words of a pop song just as I turned on the radio. His voice can just jump out and reverberate in your spirit, taking even a profane vehicle and making it sacred. (And then you question yourself, and tell yourself you’re crazy, and then you realize, no, I know His voice, and that was it! Unless it was something you don’t want to hear, in which case, you stick your fingers in your ears, saying “lalalalala” and convincing yourself that it was just your imagination. Oh, or is that just me?!?) I have to say, it’s not usually when I’m seeking specific answers– He is not my own personal Magic 8 ball, He is God. But there’s nothing wrong with occasionally finding yourself in a spot in which you’re seeking that way. I just think it comes down to attitude: “Lord, do you have something for me here?” humble, relational thinking vs. “magical” presumptuous thinking.

  23. Deborah

    I do notice many days the prayers and psalms in my MAGNIFICAT seem to correlate with what issues I’m dealing with that day. I am in awe every time it happens!

    • Teresa

      I have that experience regularly, it seems. Once my kids were fighting in the car while waiting for a music lesson to be over and in desperation I reached for my Magnificat, and the verse was “in His image and likeness you were made”. Wondering about the whole meaning of this, I opened it again to a very similar verse. I gathered that we need to treat one another as those made in his image. Pretty helpful, I thought.

  24. Sarah

    I view opening the bible at random as a tool rather than a hindrance. I don’t necessarily go to the Lord with a question or problem, sometimes I will just say “Lord, do you want to communicate anything to me through your word?” That way, if I open up to “…what thou givest to them they shall gather up: when thou openest thy hand, they shall all be filled with good” Ps.103
    …”And Josue the son of Nun sent from Setim two men to spy secretly: and said to them: Go, and view the land and the city of Jericho.” Josh.2 – in either case, and in all cases I can study, pray and absorb the word of God with no “strings” attached.

  25. Brittany

    Dearest Jen,

    Before I comment, do you believe that, even with God, there is such a thing as chance or random causality in the universe? I think the common thread in the stories listed above is that God works with human volition and effort. I can’t argue for or against any method of Bible study but I know God is primarily concerned with the heart behind whatever you choose to do. He’s not limited by what we think works or doesn’t work.

    If we really believe in the perfect and divine plan of God (from the world-shaking events down to the little, everyday, seemingly ridiculous details), how can we attribute any outcome, regardless of how we achieve it, to coincidence or randomness?

    I appreciate your mind and deep questions. πŸ™‚


    • Bender

      Just an aside here — but could there be such a thing as chance or randomness in a universe WITHOUT God? Without Divine Providence or human free will, the universe is governed by purely deterministic laws of cause and effect. Every effect has a specific cause, there is no such thing as a “random” event. That ball lands in that slot on the roulette wheel because it was pre-determined to land there as a result of all the various factors — wheel shape, ball size and weight, speed of the wheel, speed of the ball, degree of friction, atmospheric conditions, etc.

      If there is no such thing as randomness without God, is there randomness with Him? Or just the illusion of randomness?

      With God, although by Providence He does “guide” the universe, He still does respect human free will. If we were to just flip through the Bible, and He essentially made us stop at one particular spot, would that be a violation of our free will?

  26. Scott Morizot

    I wouldn’t care to limit what God can do, but it’s my thought that truly random acts (like picking a scripture out of the hat) are unlikely to be reliable sources of spiritual formation. As far as a text today (and perhaps even a codex of St. Augustine’s day) opening a book is not an entirely random act — at least if you’ve read it frequently. It’s more likely to fall open to a part to which it has been opened more often than others. I’ll also note that I know my own mind, and I know I tend to remember and emphasize the “coincidences” more than I do all the times nothing special resulted. Our minds are not video recorders of our experience. They shape and mold it.

    I will also note something I’m surprised nobody else mentioned. The casting of lots for the replacement of Judas was not really a random act. Go further up in the text. They put a lot of thought and effort into it. They examined and considered a number of people for those best suited based on a number of criteria, not least that they had been with Jesus from the beginning and been witnesses of the Resurrection. In the end, they were left with two who both seemed completely worthy and no way to distinguish between the two. It was at that point and only at that point that they fell back to what was a Jewish tradition for resolving such decisions where either choice seemed perfectly reasonable in every other way.

    Of course, I’m also of the school who doesn’t believe God’s will for us is a mystery at all. It’s his will to conform us to the image of his son. It’s his will that we be one with his son and with each other as he and the son are one. The list goes on. It’s often hard for us to even comprehend, much less act upon, but it’s hardly a secret.

    But as far as many of the decisions in our lives go, God simply says, “Choose.” Perhaps there was something that distinguished Matthias, so God influenced the lots. But I think it’s possible that God’s judgment was that the eleven had done well in their work narrowing Judas’ replacement to two and that either man was suitable. If the only way they could resolve it was to, in a sense, flip a coin, that was as fine a way to make the choice as any other.

    • Janet Fielder, OTQ

      Fantastic point about the choice of Judas’ successor. Essentially, they found two good candidates but there was only one open position to be filled at that moment. So they flipped a coin. This seems to me to really make clear that apostolic succession was an important, formal institution from the very beginning. I worry that many Protestants skip right over this passage, or its implications for the validity and authority of their local church leadership.

  27. whimsy

    i think you answered your question in “reaching gracepoint”

    • whimsy

      AND “when God locks doors” !!

  28. totustuusmaria1208

    I asked my spiritual director, a Franciscan sister, about this once, and she said it was ok. Actually, she said it must be, because that was one way St. Francis was guided in starting his order.
    I use this from time to time, and it’s really helped! Sometimes (usually when I’m in distress) I’ll open up to a Scripture passage (or 3) that will say exactly what I need to hear at that moment. Whenever I do this though, I pray to the Holy Spirit asking Him to guide me.
    I think you can look at this way of praying as you look at ways of hearing God’s voice in general. You can’t just open up to a verse and make a decision. You need to discern whether God is really speaking to you. For example, one way people hear God’s voice is through other people. But that doesn’t mean you take everything another person says as God’s voice. You think about what makes sense, what touched your heart, what brings peace to you, etc. Discern.
    In my experience, I know God is speaking to me through “Bible Roulette” if the words bring a deep sense of peace to my heart, are specific to what I asked in prayer, AND are consistant with what He has been telling me in prayer in the various other ways he speaks to me.
    In other words, I think this form of prayer can be a legit way God can speak to you from time to time, but it should never be your only way of praying.

  29. Russ

    I’m not qualified to answer this on my own, so I’ll turn to Pope Benedict XVI. In the book “God and the World”, journalist Peter Seewald has an extended (book-length) interview with then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Here’s the relevant part (pages 158-159):

    Seewald: Francis did not just read the Bible; he played a kind of roulette with it. When he was founding his order, we are told, the saint opened a page at random and said: “This is how we’ll do it!” And then he opened another page and said: “This will be our rule!” Saint Augustine, too, once found the Bible open in front of him at a certain page and made that text his own; and that meant he would have to change his life quite radically.

    Ratzinger: That’s a very old way of doing it. Augustine himself came across it as an older tradition. By this method he finds the message for his conversion, just as Francis found his message of guidance. [Here Ratzinger gives another fairly lengthy example.] …But you can’t just make it a standard recipe, otherwise we would be turning scripture into an oracle. What is right and important is for us to read the Bible regularly, to let it keep us company and guide us. In inner conversation with it, we will always find words that especially speak to us and help us on our way in particular situations.

  30. Elisa | blissfulE

    I think this is a “sometimes” thing. On decisions like what to have for dinner or whether you should get the white or black countertops, I think God likes us to use our own God-given skills and intellect to determine that sort of thing.

    Other times we can be like Gideon – we think God is asking us to do something, but we’re not sure or we’re not liking what we’re hearing so we ask in another way for another confirmation. I think those confirmations can be sought through various methods, including opening randomly in your Bible.

    One of the pastors at my church got confirmation to marry his wonderful wife over the objections of her parents (despite her love for the pastor, they wanted her to marry an investment banker, not a penniless pastor) through opening randomly to a passage in scripture. He was praying for guidance and felt the Spirit led him to open his Bible randomly and let his finger drop to the page.

    The story is funny because he had one version of the Bible right in front of him, and he was about to open that one, but the Spirit intervened and told him to grab his NIV which was across the room (he jokes that God must prefer the NIV)! Anyway, I forget the exact reference, but sure enough his finger fell on a verse indicating marriage very clearly. So he double-checked and the next verse his finger fell on (on a different random page) had to do with doing things quickly! πŸ™‚ A fun story, and I think God is a lot of fun, too. Jesus’ miracles indicate that he likes to mix things up and do things differently – for example healing a blind man one way in one town and a different way in another.

    So I think as long as you really need guidance and the Spirit is leading you to open randomly in your Bible to get it, then go for it. But don’t forget that there are other avenues in with He speaks with us as well.

  31. Mandy

    There are a lot of great comments here and I certainly don’t feel qualified to give you advice on the subject, but here are my $.02:

    I don’t believe that anything happens by chance. I believe that whatever Scripture you read, whatever signs you may see, whatever meaningful event however small, are all placed before you by God for a purpose. He has put “wordless” sermons, lessons and revelations all around us if only we take the time to slow down and pay attention to them. That said, I agree with others who have commented that prayer and communication with Him are vital to understanding His will and direction.

    I do however find myself with similar questions often. The most common in this category pertains to (oddly enough) fortune cookies! πŸ™‚ I’ve never put a lot of stock in a fortune cookie, but who’s to say that God can’t speak through that as well? If He could speak through a donkey, couldn’t He convey a message through a dessert? (I know it sounds silly). If He could arrange the stars and constellations in the night sky, couldn’t He just as easily arrange for a fortune cookie with a specific message to arrive in my hands? It’s something I wonder and think about (because sometimes those messages can be VERY specific!), but never spend a lot of time dwelling on because ultimately I know that regardless of what “the cookie” says, God is in control. But I think sometimes He can at least use them to encourage us to take steps in the right direction. πŸ™‚

    One of my favorite movie scenes ever is in “Bruce Almighty” (I have mixed feelings about the movie overall, but this scene is great) where Bruce is distraught and looking for a sign from God. He’s praying and asking God over and over for a sign, and all these literal signs telling him there is danger ahead and that he should stop his car. Yet he pays them no attention and instead complains about the truck carrying them for slowing him down and eventually ends up running his car into a light post. I feel like that often. I want a clear indication of what God wants me to do, but as hard as I pray and “look for clues,” I still feel I have no idea what the next step is. But sometimes when I pray and ask God to give me an unmistakable indication of His will, He does. Often that means it’s unmistakable, but if I blink, I’ll miss it. I just have to be paying close attention.

    Good topic. πŸ™‚ Thanks for bringing it up. I have enjoyed reading everyone else’s responses.

  32. Barbara

    While using this method of discernment you could come away with a great answer (which may or may not be the one God gives), or you could just be really frustrated, and I’m guessing option #2 would be more common.

    Is it a good idea? I don’t know if it is a method of testing God, but he certainly gave his view on that in the bible: Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'” Matthew 4:7

    If you want to know what God wants for you, ask, and listen. Ask your Heavenly Mother and all the saints to help you hear.

  33. Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    A priest I respect a lot once called that “Bible abuse.” I think God *can* work that way, but expecting Him to is akin to superstition.

  34. Bill

    My random Bible reading has come without intending to do it. For example, I get my bible to look something up, I unintentionally open it up to a certain page. A verse catches my eye. I read it, and it appears to be an answer to something I am presently dealing with.

  35. Young Mom

    I sometimes flip through my bible re-reading the places I’ve highlighted in the past, verses that meant something special to me at some point in the past. But I don’t do the whole close your eyes and point thing, that reminds me to much of the whole “god told me” arguement. Its fine if you feel that God has revealed something to you , in your own life, unrelated to any other person. But if you are using your “God told me” moments to control or influence others, then I feel that’s abusive.

  36. Janet Fielder, OTQ

    This is called Lectio Divina, right?

    I think one of the reasons it often manages to succeed at turning up words that speak to the reader and to the reader’s situation, is that the whole story of God is basically about love. You can start from any number of concepts that point towards love, and your pondering will lead you in the right direction and give you the right love-filled insight into whatever you are considering. To God, it must all seem very simple. “Love one another.” To us, it seems very complex. In some loose sense, you could replace every word in the Bible with the word “love” and not have changed it very much.

    • Sister Lynn

      Lectio Divina is NOT opening the Bible at random. It is a slow and reflective reading of the text.

  37. Sister Lynn

    Overall, I think this is a bad idea. It makes the necessity of a consistent and steady study of God’s word seem worthless.
    God’s Word is His revelation of Himself to us – both as a Church and on a personal level. We need to have a daily, steady diet of God’s word. We need to practice lectio divina and slowly absorb God’s word into our very being. Because as we do this, we allow His word to transform us and conform us to Him. Thus, when Sacred Scripture is read and studied consistently we won’t need parlor games to know God’s will. It will be as Dueteronomy 30:14 says…”No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”

  38. bogarte

    I believe the technical name for it is Bibliomancy. Although I think I prefer ‘Bible Roulette’ πŸ˜‰

  39. Sarah

    I have heard that Amish churches still choose their bishops by lot. They see it as a way both of being biblical and trusting the Holy Spirit.

  40. Kathleen Miller

    Since you’ve mentioned dice…

    A few years ago it seemed to me that flexibility was one of the virtues I should develop during Lent. A blogger or poster (sorry I don’t remember who) mentioned an idea from Fr. Dean Borgmeyer, of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese. You make a list of six possible Lenten penances or actions, and throw a die each morning to pick the penance of the day. The idea was kind of fun, considering it was Lent. πŸ™‚

    The following year, I made three lists of six items, one each for fasting, prayer, and mercy. Amazing how often the “pray a psalm” number came up on the second die. You can call it the “Die Game,” as in dying to self.

    Don’t forget that God has a magnificent sense of humor and that He takes great delight in fun.

  41. Jean

    When the apostles drew lots it was before Pentecost, so they had not then received the Holy Spirit. There is no record of them doing AFTER they’d received God’s Spirit.

    I believe that if you want an answer from God, you should pray about the matter, then perhaps take a tentative step forward, one way or another, and see if you feel peaceful about it. You may still feel scared or doubtful but do you have an inner peace, however faint? If so take another step. But whatever, keep praying and seeking His will. He’ll show you, but NOT if you do nothing!!

  42. lailani

    Random opening for me is when I know I need to read the word, but whatever is going on in life is maybe overwhelming or I have NO direction, just desire to be fed. If there is a specific issue, I go to the concordance πŸ˜‰ But rely much on prayer!

  43. Jaibee

    My priest talks of this often, saying that it’s a dangerous practice.

  44. Kathryn

    To begin with, picking up the Bible is not a random act. By approaching God through His Word with an open heart, you are inviting Him to speak to you, being attentive to Him. There are alot of ways to be attenive to God, and I have personally found this way to give me many insights and make connections or “leaps” that would never have occurred to me otherwise. There is a difference between treating the Bible like a Magic 8 Ball and interacting with it as the living Word of God. There is always the danger of reducing our experience with the Mystery to one of manipulation and control, no matter how you choose to pray or seek guidance. If you are anything like me, you are going to mess up a lot. But your continual asking and desire to be united with God’s will is the best way I know of to guard against turning your “random” Bible reading into something unhealthy.

  45. Bender

    Well, no, you shouldn’t treat the Bible like a Ouija board, but there is certainly nothing wrong with just randomly flipping through the scriptures.

    Of course, whenever we read scripture we must remember the cardinal rules of scriptural interpretation, one of the first being not to take things out-of-context. We shouldn’t read verses in isolation like fortunes in a fortune cookie. There is the bigger picture to consider.

    That being said, it is rather eerie the number of times I’m contemplating one particular thing and I happen to open up the Bible to the exact right spot. Of course, most times I “randomly” open to a page, there is no particular connection to what I’m thinking about at the time.

    Does God speak through randomness? Well, if He does speak to us in that way, it isn’t random.

  46. Nancy

    I think reading and studying the Bible are more reliable ways to know God’s will. That way, we can see the arc of His relationship with His people, His choice to allow Christ to enter time and history, His promise to return, and what that says about His love and character.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to open the Bible and see what pops up . . . it’s just a little bit like choosing food randomly or blindfolded at the grocery store. You’ll still have stuff to eat, but you could end up pretty malnourished!

  47. Sunshineinthehome

    I suppose if God can speak through Balaam’s donkey He can if He so wished speak through the random opening of the Bible. My Mum often does this and receives answers. I have very rarely, but sometimes received an answer to a question using this technique.

  48. Rebecca

    Our Priest actually answered this question a few Sundays ago…
    with a resounding ‘don’t do that!’.

    He challenged us to study and read the Word to seek answers, not just flip it open randomly. While God may give us the answer we need, if we do not understand it’s context, it was a pointless exercise.

  49. SwankNicki

    I have done this before, and I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong. However, I’ve been guided far more by verses I’ve memorized or passages I’ve become familiar with through repeated reading than by flipping open to any random page.

    I think it becomes a hindrance if you rely on opening to the right verse to the exclusion of really reading and applying the scriptures on a daily basis. I believe God will meet you wherever you are, and that he can use random readings for good, but random reading isn’t going to help you when you don’t have access to your bible. Knowing the verses and stories, even if you can’t remember the exact reference, will help you more, imo. πŸ™‚

  50. karyn

    You wrote a post once on asking God to help you hear what you needed to hear during Mass – even if it was only a word or phrase. Perhaps this is the way to approach a random Bible-opening. Without a specific question (God already knows your concerns), you could ask God to lead to the passage you need.

    I did read that Saint Francis’ ministry was based on two passages open to at random. It was supposedly common practice to seek answers that way in the Middle Ages.

  51. rjsciurus

    I recall in a RCIA retreat being asked to spend an hour with the New Testament as we all discerned whether to continue the journey. Not knowing where to begin I opened to a random page and it was the calling of Peter and Andrew. After a quiet chuckle to myself, I tried it again. This time it was Saul being tossed off his horse. I quit reading and started praying.

  52. Cory Tucholski

    Odd that you bring this up. C. Michael Patton (a Protestant–fair warning if you are shielding yourself from the “evils” of Protestantism) wrote something on this very topic here. Hopefully you find it as informative as I did.

  53. Keith B

    Not too long ago, I was leading a Bible Study, and I had no real idea what scripture to use for the topic we had selected. So I just started flipping through randomly, and one passage caught my eye, and as I read, I realized it would apply, but wasn’t enough.

    I flipped through again, and lo and behold, another passage caught my eye, and suddenly what I was going to do meshed together.

    God? Possibly.

    There have also been times I’ve flipped randomly and found nothing.

    I think God does choose to speak to us in the way that makes the most sense at the time. Sometimes it is through the random flips. Sometimes it isn’t.

    God, despite being unchangeable, does nothing but change how He interacts with us.

  54. Sam Wood

    Jennifer, thank you so much for the courage to talk about this. I know it’s over two years since you posted this, but I am excited by this “method.” It’s more than a method, and the term “random” is rather imperfect at best if we understand what the early Church Fathers believed about the Scriptures. To them, like St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Ambrose, the Scriptures were ALIVE, a book that “breathes!” It’s inspired and the author who penned it is alive to explain it!

    When I open the Scriptures, two persons are involved in the reading; Jesus and me. We are NEVER to turn the truths that Jesus reveals into a text book or a history book where we study in a third person format the live and mission of Jesus…as if he’s the “guy back then.” He is with us in our road to Emmaus, and He walks with us, explaining the Scriptures and taking the initiative to meet with us and bring the Scriptures to us where we live now.

    You had mentioned the casting of lots in Acts; let me tell you on how the Franciscan Movement of Renewal started. It started with the praying of Scripture by St. Francis and St. Bernard of Quintevaile, who in the Church of St. Nicholas, consulted the book of the Gospels “randomly” (I have to come up with another word, help me here), trusting that God knows how to guide Francis to show him the mission to which he was to embark. He had three readings, for each Person of the Holy Trinity, and each one told him to leave all things, follow Christ at all cost and preach the Gospel.

    It’s a wonder to see that the greatest movement of renewal in Church history began with praying the Scripture, a “random” opening and trusting that the Lord will guide us. Certainly, we are to lovingly read the Scriptures and study them and grow in faith and wisdom that comes from the Scriptures. However, we are never to do this as if we are gleaning concepts from a textbook. This is the curse of our modern literary age…we apply the cold scientific principles of textual criticism to the living, breathing Truth that is a Person: Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. God bless you!!

  55. Valerie

    Personally, I don’t believe anything is random, it is all exactly as God planned it to be. I think faith means that we trust God to lead us in the direction we are meant to go. Seek and ye shall find, ask and it shall be given. I don’t think it is about commanding God to answer you, it is recognizing that he is always there and if your motives are purely to seek his will, you can have faith that he will answer you. I don’t think anyone else can really say that it is not correct for you to seek him in this manner if your heart is being led to so. We need to have complete trust in God to lead us where we need to go. God can answer us in any and every way he chooses, and it doesn’t feel correct to put him in a box by saying that he would or wouldn’t respond in certain ways, when we as humans can not say for sure. If you are getting something good out of it, and feel closer to him, then I would think it is good. After all, God knows your heart and your intentions and will deliver accordingly. How you interpret what you read will depend on all of that anyway wont it? Just don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t always work because then that may be like a magic 8 ball, and when it does, know that it is His grace that allowed it and celebrate that. God is good. πŸ™‚

  56. Vanessa

    I believe we should “randomly” look for God’s answers everywhere. In fact I believe the more we choose to hear God by just opening up the Book, sermon on internet, or the radio, we give God the chance to talk directly to us more so than routine things. Maybe your urge to randomly open the Bible came from God, Himself. Maybe its not so random after all?

    I think instead of thinking your challenging God for answers, to do otherwise, would be to say you know where the answers already are…

    And if you did, you wouldn’t be asking this question, thus, God is fair, loves you unconditionally, and wants you to truly know him, whether it be thru routine pratice, or “random practice”

    I randomly, truly found God after getting on my knees for the first time and praying, wondering if I was already in hell. Opened up to Romans 8.

    But my experience has nothing to with your wrong or right? So flip open the Bible and maybe you’ll find out! πŸ™‚


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