Some very bright theologians and scientists gathered this week at Fuller Seminary in California to discuss if and how randomness can harmonize with divine providence. It got me thinking about coincidences that happened two years ago on a New England vacation. Here is the story:
Our airplane to Boston was an hour and a half late in landing. We told our New Hampshire hosts to go ahead with dinner, because an overturned beer truck on the interstate would now delay our reunion even longer.
The traffic’s snail pace gave me time to muse about coincidences. Does a beer truck spill have a divine providential impact on me or is it just randomness? I tried to think of some biblical examples of unexpected interruptions: the Ethiopian eunuch puzzling over scripture on a dusty road came to mind. It just so happened Philip journeyed to that exact place and time and was able to answer the eunuch’s questions and baptize him. Abraham’s servant was sent to a foreign land to find the right woman for son Isaac. After the servant prayed, along comes Rebekah to water his camels. Finally, I thought of the Apostle Peter, released from jail in the middle of the night. He knocked on the door of his startled prayer intercessors.
Yes, I concluded, there is biblical evidence that God has a hand in the geographic “coincidences” of our lives. Little did I know God was going to use these thoughts to give me two joyful surprises.
That Sunday, we joined our hosts at their Chichester (NH) Church, a congregation of about 200. On the same row as my husband and myself were seated a young man and his wife. After the service the young man asked, “Are you from Cincinnati?”
We nodded, “Yes, we used to be from there.”
He said, “Mr. Boy-ell, I think you were my high school math teacher when I was a freshman.” Recognition came, and we laughed at this pleasant “coincident.” This young man had even worshiped at our first Cincinnati church of about 120 people.
But the coincident grew. Part of our vacation was for my husband to meet his cousin Jeannine for the first time. The two had corresponded for years with a mutual interest in genealogy.
Jeannine works at the Massachusetts State House, and she insisted we let her arrange a tour. She said something like, “Rep. Tacky Chan gives the best private tours; I asked him and he said yes.” So there we were having a first-time meeting with energetic Jeannine and enjoying the State House with a gracious Rep. Chan.
In the middle of the tour Jeannine said something like, “My Rep. Keiko isn’t in today, or I would have had you meet her. She’s a great boss.”
“What’s Keiko’s last name?” my husband asked.
Jeannine said, “Keiko Orrall.”
He said, “Oh! We know her!”
Jeannine said, “You mean you’ve seen her on Facebook?”
“No,” he replied. “We went to the same church in Cincinnati about 18 years ago.” (It was the same 120-member church mentioned above!).
I chimed in that we were good friends back then but had lost contact over the years.
Jeannine was almost speechless at this coincidence. But she recovered to call Keiko immediately, and we arranged a special reunion lunch.
During the conversation I said, “Keiko, the last thing I knew about you was that you were home schooling your children near a cranberry bog.”
Keiko nodded. “Yes, I know. It’s amazing. A lot has happened.”
Amazing indeed! Representative Keiko Orrall is the first Asian American woman to serve in the Massachusetts’ legislature. She is passionate, caring and smart. Go Rep. Keiko!
The next day Jeannine sent us an email that said she felt like she had received a big hug from God in this coincident of her cousin knowing her boss. Indeed, we all felt that way.
So as the Randomness and Divine Providence meetings wrap up in California, this story is one for the supporters of divine providence.
I know there is so much sadness and evil in this world. It can seem insanely random. Yet, there is also purpose and joy. God gives hugs and surprises– sometimes when we least expect them. When these loving gifts do pop up, we can be reassured of the Giver’s care for us.
Jesus said, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT)