It seems to me that church folk talk a lot about God doing this or that in our lives, and rightly so I guess. “God told me this or has been telling me that”, is a common utterance, but I’ve been avoiding that terminology for some time now. I guess I am uncomfortable with this assertion at times. Please don’t get me wrong, it is not my intent to discourage anyone who uses these expressions or to imply that they are wrong to do so. Nor am I calling God’s existence or presence into question. I am only expressing my own doubt or lack of understanding in the matter. My questions are of free will, and Divine orchestration. Good stuff happens to bad people and bad stuff happens too good people and vice versa and none of us can predict it consistently. After all, Jesus, when questioned whether a man’s blindness was a manifestation of God’s judgment, challenged the disciples’ notion of cause and effect. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (According to John 9:3, NIV). In Matthew’s account of the “Sermon on the Mount” (specifically, Matthew 5:45), Jesus said, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (cf. Job 25:3).
I watched the movie V for Vendetta recently and remember the protagonist “V” saying, “I, like God, do not play with dice and do not believe in coincidence.” It stood out to me because it’s something I’ve pondered a lot over the years. How much of our lives, how much of the universe is minutely managed by the Creator? Were the Bengals praying harder (and therefore playing better) than the Ravens last Thursday night? (Sorry, though I watch occasionally, I’m really not that into the NFL.) Or when my Dad got his hay in before the rain and the neighboring farmer’s got soaked (rain is not good for hay quality), was that just a matter of luck (or in a more Menno-correct term, fortune) or was there some Divine intervention? Perhaps it was just because of my Dad’s skill and good sense as a farmer or because we didn’t bale much hay, but chopped most of it to make haylage and didn’t have to wait as long for it to dry.
The impetus for this post came this afternoon as I was leaving school, headed to get my bike and ride home. It was about 1:15 and as I walked down the long hall towards the exit, I kept telling myself that it wouldn’t happen again, but sure enough, near the end of the hall, Dr. B appeared from around the corner. “What’s so odd about that?” you ask. Well, it all started Monday, when in the same hallway sometime between 2 and 3pm, in search of a bathroom that was not being cleaned, I passed Dr. B twice. Barely a few minutes later I bumped into him outside on my way to where I park my bike. We both laughed at the coincidence of running into each other three times in a matter of five minutes, though neither of us had ever officially made the other’s acquaintance. Tuesday I left school around 1:30 and there was Dr. B, walking in the door I was walking out of. Again we chuckled remarking that we weren’t surprised, but each thinking, “Okay, this has been weird, but I’m sure this is the last time”. It wasn’t to be. On Wednesday I stayed until after 3 p.m. to help with psychiatry interviews that my classmates are learning to do and of course, there was Dr. B, walking in where I was walking out. I told him jokingly that I had been waiting there all afternoon for him. So now you can understand why I thought it highly improbable for a sixth encounter to happen on the fourth day in a row at no particular time in the day. I introduced myself this time offering my hand and he did likewise and we went on our way.
Now, I’ve always been a fan of coincidences, and would say they’re not too uncommon in my life, but I think this one tops those most recent in my memory. What significance this particular set of coincidences (or any of them for that matter) has for my life, I do not know and might never. But, if I believe like V, and much of Christendom, that God does not play with dice, then what?
I am curious to hear your thoughts on this matter. What is your working model for how God interacts with the world? Are we puppets? Is there a script? Is God aloof and ‘hands offish‘? What role does prayer play? Is there something in-between or a more appropriate question to ask? I doubt if we’ll arrive at any any definitive conclusions from this discussion, but perhaps we’ll find something helpful and thought provoking as we look through a glass darkly.
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