In the late 1950s Johnny Mathis sang “Chances Are.” I’ve never liked that song. Though it ends with the line “The chances are your chances are awfully good!” I always thought there shouldn’t be that much chance connected to that much professed love.
My aversion to that song links in my fetid mind with the talk of “risk” particularly in medicine. If you do this or don’t do that, you are at risk for this or that. Dr. Dean Adel points out that reporters often blare headlines that say if you eat or don’t eat this or that or drink or don’t drink this or that you’re doubling your risk of ____________ fill in the blank. He says if the risk of you getting something is 1/10 of 1%, if your risk rises to 2/10 you have doubled it. However, there is a 99.8% chance you won’t get whatever horrible disease they’re talking about.
Did you catch that? I went from talking about risk of getting something to chance of getting something. Chance is in the realm of the goddess Lady Luck or as she was known in ancient times as Fortuna from which we get our word fortunate. When we use the word “fortunate” we think we’re being more pious than when we say “luckily” or “chance” but when we’re a fortunate son we’re the son of a goddess not the true God.
My real point concerns the “risk” that medicine likes to talk so much about. I actually think they make so much hay with this word for the same reason the lottery does. Anyone with even my low-level, okay nonexistent, math skills knows that the chance of winning the lottery is astronomically low, but the State markets this recessive tax by saying, “If you don’t play you can’t win.”
Who knows? You might win if you play, right? Another way of saying it is the only way you have a chance of winning is if you play. Or, you’re only at risk of winning if you play. This thinking translates into medicine. The only way you’re at risk of getting a disease is if you don’t do their test when they say or eat their diet or take this preventive medicine. The only chance you have of getting a much dreaded disease is if you don’t do something. You can frame the lottery argument in the same way: the only chance, the only risk you have of not winning the jackpot is not to play.
The word risk comes from the French risqué which means in English what it does in French: “slightly indecent or liable to shock, especially by being sexually suggestive.” The word “chance” comes from the Latin word for “fall.” God doesn’t live in the land of chance or risk. It’s a land of risqué thinking which is always on the brink of falling farther away from God.
To me the doctor, and I have one like this, who says to you unless you get this test, eat this food, take this pill, or exercise this much you’re at risk, or you have a chance, of getting such and so, is no different than the astrologist who sent a Lutheran prince a chart that said the stars said he would die. The Lutheran prince sent back the chart with Psalm 31:15 on it, “My times are in Thy hand.”