What does the Bible means when it says that "time and chance happen to them all"?
The author of Ecclesiastes made a puzzling statement when he wrote that "time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Some interpret this to mean that, sometimes, bad things happen for no real reason. But is that true?
Bad things certainly happen. But it would be completely out of character for the same God who does not forget so much as a sparrow, and who assures us that "you are of more value than many sparrows" (Luke 12:6-7), to allow anything to happen without a reason.
Think about the implications of something happening without any reason. It means one of two things: either God wasn't paying attention or didn't care. That's like calling the Almighty either incompetent or apathetic.
We know that neither is true. God is all-seeing (Psalm 33:13-15), never-sleeping (Psalm 121:3-4) and cares deeply about His people (Romans 8:38-39). So we must examine the alternative—that, while God does not directly cause evil, He knowingly allows it to happen.
Because humanity has elected to follow its own way instead of God's, God "gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful" (Romans 1:28-31). God has, in essence, taken a step back from a world that says it doesn't want Him around. He is allowing its inhabitants to see the result of a life without Him.
That result is, from a human perspective, time and chance. Though God has not lost the ability to restrain Satan and his demons at will, humanity has forfeited God's protection by turning its collective back on Him. As a result, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Bad things happen as a result of humanity's choices; as a result of sin and forsaking God. But none of them happen "accidentally" or apart from God's will.
As it is written in the Psalms, "the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy" (Psalm 33:18). That is a promise. (What about when bad things happen to God's people? See the Related Online Resources below.)