Have you ever gone somewhere, on the spur of the moment, and just happened to show up at just the perfect time? Or have you ever met someone for the first time and have them say something to you or do something for you that had a tremendous impact on your life? Or have you ever been thinking of someone and then suddenly have them contact you for no apparent reason? Weird? Coincidence?
G.K. Chesterton said, “Coincidences are spiritual puns.” In other words, it is a play on words because there is no such thing as a coincidence.
Is there such a thing as coincidence or does everything happen for a reason?
There are many who deny that everything happens for a reason, stating such examples as, “If a hammer slips out of my hand and lands on my toe, did that happen for some greater purpose, or was that just the natural consequence of my slippery hand and the laws of gravity?”
On the other hand, there are those who will cite seemingly impossible coincidences that have been so dramatic as to literally save someone’s life; using such examples to assert their belief that certainly everything must happen for a reason. One of my favorite such stories involves the famous John D. Rockefeller.
As a young man, John D. Rockefeller had always been extremely organized and punctual. “He followed a strict schedule every single day of his life, and never wasted time on frivolities. He was always on time, and was quoted as saying ‘A man has no right to occupy another man’s time unnecessarily.’” (How to Lead Like John D. Rockefeller by Steve Cunningham June 2015) However, on December 18, 1867, when young Rockefeller was only twenty eight years old, he uncharacteristically missed a train. The young Rockefeller had booked himself on a routine train trip from Cleveland to Buffalo. He sent his bags on ahead of him, but he arrived at the station just moments after the train had already departed.
A few hours after the train left that station, while passing over a bridge near the town of Angola, New York, the train lost its last two cars. The cars had became detached and derailed, the same cars that Rockefeller would have been riding in. Those two cars plunged 40 feet down an ice-covered slope. They crashed into the bottom of a gorge, and burst into flames. A total of 49 people were killed that day, literally being burned alive. Only two people survived. Rockefeller’s luggage was incinerated in the blaze.
Many had written saying that, after that incident, Rockefeller was convinced that some curse was out to get him, and so he became determined to make the most of his life. Within three years, he established the Standard Oil Company, eventually becoming the world’s richest man.
Was it simply coincidence that young Rockefeller, who was known for being extremely organized and punctual, had missed the train that day, the train that would have taken his life? Or did this event happen to accomplish some greater purpose in life?
Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his mind a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.” Paul said, in his letter to the Ephesians, “In Him we were chosen; for in the decree of God, who administers everything according to His will and counsel, we were predestined to praise His glory by being the first to hope in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:11-12)
If God directs our every step and if God administers everything according to His will and counsel, can we then safely assume that everything must therefore happen for a reason? And if we come to that conclusion, how do we explain the many sad and tragic events in life?
A classic comeback to the philosophy that there is a purpose and a reason for everything that happens in life is found in the movie, “A Walk to Remember”. There is a scene in that movie in which Jamie, who is played by Mandy Moore, says, “Without suffering, there’s no compassion”, to which Landon, who is played by Shane West, replies, “Well tell that to those who suffer.”
It can be emotionally and psychologically beneficial to view every sad and tragic event in life as a lesson. For “Without observing cruelty, we would not be moved to compassion. Without personal trials, we would not develop patience or faithfulness. It is the recognition that our earthly concerns matter little when compared to life eternal that allows us to know joy in the midst of sorrow and worry.” (“To Heaven and Back”, Mary C. Neal, MD)
We are fast approaching Easter. And the Easter story is a tremendous example that supports the hypothesis that every event in life, good or bad, has a purpose and a reason. Jesus was definitely a good and righteous man. But Jesus himself said that “The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn Him to death and hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit at Him, flog Him, and finally kill Him.” (Mark 10:33-34) It is hard to comprehend anything that could be worse than the crucifixion of the Son of God. But Scripture tells us that Jesus himself explained the purpose when, “He took the cup and gave thanks, He gave it to His disciples, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which will be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28) The worst event imaginable is literally at the very heart of what we Christians celebrate, for this singular event offers God’s free gift of redemption to those who acknowledge their sinfulness and accept His forgiveness. The sad events that we remember on Good Friday precede the glorious Resurrection that we celebrate on Easter Sunday.
Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that “God causes all things to work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
In reference to Paul’s statement, the Jerome Biblical Commentary says, “God’s purpose and plan are what is really behind all that happens to Christians. For Paul, God is in control of everything. — ‘Who are called according to His purpose’, this phrase was merely added as a compliment to ‘those who love God’. It designates ‘Christians’ and explains why they love God; they do so because they have responded to a divine call. — According to the divine plan of salvation the Christian is to reproduce in himself an image of Christ by a progressive share in the risen life of Christ Himself.”
Are coincidences really just spiritual puns as G.K. Chesterton said? We humans use the word coincidence to explain the unexpected and surprising events in life. We must remember that we may be surprised by an event, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that God is surprised. “God is the Great Engineer, creating circumstances to bring about moments in our lives of divine importance, leading us to divine appointments.” (Oswald Chambers 1874-1917) Only God can promise that He will make all things work together for the good to those who love Him. Only God can take our every event, good or bad, and use them to fulfill His purpose. We may not always understand. The pain and sorrow and fear that we experience at times, may make us feel like we are being suffocated. But ultimately, our only reasonable option is to trust in God, trust in His divine plan, and trust in His promises.