I remember hearing about a Russian astronaut who returned to earth from outer space and remarked that he had not seen God anywhere. That is not surprising for the Bible tells us that no one has ever seen, nor can see, God. (John 1:18; 6:46; 1Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:12) Moses once asked God if he could see His glory. God replied that no one could see His face and live. He said He would reveal His goodness and allow Moses to see His back, but not His face. (Exodus 33:18-23) It is not clear to me what this means, but it does seem clear that what we can see of God is His effects. Much like the wind, we cannot see it, but we can see, and feel, what it does. There was a time when Jacob claimed to have seen God face to face, but what he saw was a “man” who wrestled with him, whom he acknowledged was God in human form. (Genesis 32:24-30) God sometimes appeared in human form and addressed people in that way. (Genesis 18:1-3) Such appearances are called “anthropomorphisms”. Although the Bible declares that no one can ever see God, it is clear that God can be understood to exist and to care about us by His visible works and by becoming visible in various forms. (Deuteronomy 10:21; Psalm 98:2-3; Hebrews 1:1-2; John 14:10-11) Jesus said that to have seen Him was to have seen the Father. (John 14:8-11) Since God is unseen spirit (John 4:24), Jesus shows us through His words and actions what the Father is like.
A subject known as “natural theology” looks to see if anything can be learned about God from the study of nature. I consider nature to include, not only an examination of the heavens and the earth, but also the events of our daily lives. Nature’s objects and events do not reveal God directly, but indirectly. This means that we can understand things about God from observing the material world, and from observing things that happen in our lives that seem unexplainable without extraordinary influence. For example, from observing how the universe works (Psalm 19:1-2) we may conclude that God exists, is wise, and is powerful; or, from an observation of unusual circumstances in our lives we may conclude that God exists and cares about us. (Matthew 11:2-6; Acts 11:1-18) Studies of nature, including events that happen to us, do not tell us as much about God as the Bible does, but they do let us know that He is here and that He is still working in the world, and in our lives.
This fact that God exists and cares about us can be seen through circumstances in our lives which some call coincidence, or chance happenings. The Bible book of Esther shows this fact most vividly. Many supposed chance happenings occur in Esther, a book in which the name of God is never mentioned, but it is clear that He is behind the things that happen. Read it for yourself and see if you do not get the impression that some pretty amazing coincidental things happen. Are they chance happenings, or is God clearly at work? One example in Esther; a Jew named Mordecai overhears a plot to kill the king, reveals it, and his name is recorded in a history book. A man named Haman grows to hate Mordecai, builds a gallows, and plans to hang him the next day. He is on his way to ask the king’s permission. Is it by chance that the king is unable to sleep the night before, reads about Mordecai’s good deed and wonders if he has been rewarded? Before Haman can ask the king for permission to hang him, the king asks Haman what he would do for a man whom the king wants to honor. Thinking that he is the one the king wants to honor, Haman makes a suggestion, which the king accepts, and much to Haman’s displeasure, has Haman honor Mordecai by parading him through the city. Esther, who has become queen by a series of unusual circumstances, is now in a position to speak for Mordecai and reveal Haman’s wicked schemes. Haman is hanged on the gallows which he had built for Mordecai. (Esther 5:14-7:10)
Would we call the events in Esther chance happenings, or God’s guiding hand at work through people and events? The possibility of God at work is quite real when we know from Scripture that God, at times, does make input directly into people’s minds and hearts, helping determine their decisions and actions. (Proverbs 21:1; Ezra 1:1-3, 6:22; Acts 13:2-3; ) In a sense, it’s kind of scary to think that God can control people’s minds and choices. However, it is not scary, but comforting, if we believe that God does all things right and only for good. (Hosea 14:9) Sometimes I wonder, “Does God remove our so called free will, or at times, does God’s will and our will somehow work simultaneously?”
Like the events in Esther, there are many events in our lives that we wonder about. When I say we wonder about them, I mean that we experience a sense of awe, or wow, or we marvel at such happenings, and the thought crosses our minds of a possible supernatural power at work. Some might even say things like, “Somebody upstairs was watching out for me.” Following are a few personal stories that, for me, have created this sense of wonder. I have experienced so many of these kinds of happenings, that though they seem small and insignificant, I have concluded that they are not coincidence or chance, but effects of God at work, evidence for God’s existence and that He cares about our lives. Perhaps you have many such stories of your own.
(1) We had family visiting us from hundreds of miles away and as they left to return home, their car broke down a few blocks away. As it turned out, the battery was dead due to a failed alternator. Since repair shops were closed that day, this meant feelings of disappointment and frustration at the inconvenience of having to leave the car, transfer all their stuff to a borrowed vehicle, including car seats for the children, have the expense of fixing the car, and have someone bring their repaired car back to them. But that is not the whole story. They had tried, numerous times previous to this trip, to get a problem fixed - a noise in one of their front wheels. Mechanics replaced many parts, but it kept getting worse. But now, the repair shop replacing the alternator discovered that the front wheel bearings in one wheel were ground to pieces. This meant that in their travel home on the highways, an accident could have occurred, possibly resulting in serious injuries. Was it a chance happening that the battery quit working at this time, or was it God’s way of protecting them from a life-threatening accident? Instead of a chance inconvenience, is wonder and thanksgiving to God in order?
(2) As a child, I was sitting on my bicycle, under a large tree in front of my house. Our dog was barking, wanting to be let out of the screened-in porch. I ignored his barking until finally it bothered me and I went to open the door. As soon as I touched the door handle I heard a loud crash. I turned around to see that a huge tree branch had broken off and had fallen on my bike, crushing it to the ground. Was this a coincidence, or the hand of God?
(3) One day my daughter and I had a garage sale to make a little extra money for our up-coming mission trip to South America. When the sale was over I sat in the driveway and counted the money - $199.50. I remarked to God that if we had another fifty cents we would have an even $200. Just at that moment a little boy showed up, looked around at all the stuff, and asked what he could buy. I asked, “How much do you have?” He said, “Fifty cents.” I said, “You can buy anything here for fifty cents.” Was such timing happen-chance, or God’s hand?
(4) Once, as a post graduate student, I was asked to preach in a small church. The offering plate was being passed and I had only five dollars in my pocket. Being a financially strapped student, I struggled about whether to give it up. It was all I had. I ended up putting the five dollars in the offering plate. When finished, as I was leaving, I felt someone slip something into my suit coat pocket. Later, I took out of my pocket a five dollar bill. Apparently, God wanted me to learn that He was looking out for my best interests and that I should not fear giving up things for Him and His causes.
(5) I was a young child and my mother left for a few minutes to pick up my dad from the bus stop at the corner. He usually walked home, but it was raining. Suddenly, there was a loud clap of thunder and flashes of lightning. I was scared and wanted someone to be there with me. I did not know what to do, so I climbed a chair, picked up the phone, and randomly dialed some numbers. I had no idea how to make a phone call, but someone answered. I blurted out that I was scared. As the nice lady was comforting me, I said, “Oh…it’s ok now, my mom is home”, and I hung up. Years later, as I thought about the fact that I did not even know how many numbers to dial, I marvelled that I could have contacted anyone. How to explain it; God must have been with me.
(6) There are many other stories I can share, but one more will suffice to make the point about mysterious happenings in daily life. One day during my senior year in college, in the midst of studying for a course I was taking, there came to my mind the thought that I should not pursue the school-teaching career that I was pursing, but that I should be in the church. From where did that thought come? For two weeks the thought lingered until I finally concluded that God must be speaking to me about becoming a minister. I knew nothing about how to proceed, but with help, after researching twenty schools that I could possibly attend to be trained for such a calling, I selected one. I had never been to the school, and had not seen pictures, but because I loved being out-of-doors enjoying nature’s beauty, I mentioned to God that it would be nice if it was in a wooded area with a pond. When I got there, the school buildings were located along wooded pathways and there was a huge pond in the centre of things. A beautiful setting, and to me, not a chance happening, but a confirmation from God that I was in the place He wanted me to be. Furthermore, I was engaged to Connie to be married after college graduation, but now I had to tell her that I was changing careers. I thought it proper to give her an opportunity to back out if she did not want to be married to a minister. When I mentioned that I had something to tell her, without my even saying what it was, she said, “I know, you are going to be a minister.” “How did you know?” I asked. She said, “I used to think that someday I would be married to a minister.” These happenings in my life were confirmations that God existed, cared, and was guiding my life. A further happening occurred as I was in my last year of seminary. I began to doubt whether this was what I should be doing, maybe I should have been a school teacher after all. Part time jobs for students always appeared on the school bulletin board and one day, as I was struggling with these doubts, there was a job offer to work as a teacher’s assistant in a local high school. I took the job and through that I realized I had lost my passion for school teaching. God allowed this experience to remove all doubt from my mind and confirm that I was going in His direction for me.
The Bible has many similar examples of God at work through people and life’s circumstances. (1) Two kings banded together and went to war. God said that king Ahab would die in battle. Ahab disguised himself so the enemy would not recognize that he was the king, and thus pursue him. He thought he was safe, but an enemy soldier randomly shot an arrow at no one in particular and it just happened to strike king Ahab in a place where his armour did not protect, and he died. (1 Kings 22:29-34) (2) Another example involves Abraham’s servant who was sent to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. The servant prayed that God would show him the right girl if he asked her for a drink, and if she would offer one for his camels also. A girl came to the well where the servant was and He did ask the girl to give him a drink and she did exactly what he prayed for. This “chance” happening, with other events, helped confirm in his mind that she was God’s choice for Isaac. (Genesis 24:10-21)
Turning now to observations of the heavens and the earth; can God be “seen”? For example, scientists realize that in order for life to exist on planet earth, certain conditions must be in place. These conditions include liquid water with all the right ingredients, an oxygen-nitrogen-carbon atmosphere, an iron core at earth’s centre to maintain a necessary magnetic field, a moon of right proportions to stabilize earth’s axis, a sun just the right distance from earth so we don’t overheat or freeze, and 13-15 other factors which all must be working together for life to exist on earth. Many scientists tell us that all of this came about by chance. But when our world is examined, it looks made. In our everyday lives, we know that things that look made have a Maker. Why then do we presume that a universe reflecting order and intelligence happened by chance? Scientist, Robert Jastrow, a professed agnostic and materialist, and author of “God and the Astronomers”, said that he cannot believe that this material world all happened by chance, that there must be more than just this material world, but he has no explanation. The Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) It also says that we can clearly see some of God’s attributes through what has been made. (Romans 1:20) Is it chance that caused our universe to come together, or is a Creator God the best explanation? By what God created, we can conclude things like, He is wise, powerful, good, orderly, cares about us, and possesses mind and purpose. Some say there is a lot of evil in nature. How could God create that? Could it simply be that the corruption of nature is the result of a curse due to mankind’s rebellion? (Genesis 3:17-18; Romans 8:19-22)
Happenings, both in nature and in circumstances, can be interpreted by people in different ways. They do not have to lead to belief in God. Many people interpret them as chance happenings, or coincidence, or destiny. But, let us suppose it is true that all of life’s events do happen by chance. What hope does that leave for the human race? We struggle with our problems and are often fearful of terrible outcomes; we do what we can to protect ourselves from the worst. We rely on our human resources to enable us to make our lives safe. We do have some control, but there is no guarantee that the future will be good. But, belief in the God who has revealed Himself in writing, through nature, through His Son Jesus, and through mysterious happenings in daily life, gives hope that can cause our hearts to soar at the wonderful possibilities awaiting us. This certain, God-promised hope gives a person something to look forward to, and for me, trumps any unknowable future that results from the belief that we should do our best and then leave everything else to chance. In a popular “Lord of the Rings” movie, the ring bearer grows tired and depressed and wishes his problems had never happened and that the ring had not come to him. But because of the circumstances involving the finding of the ring, he is told that it must have been meant for him to have it. What is being implied is that there is a force for good behind these events, giving hope that things will work out because an intelligence greater than these events is in charge. Such hope gave the burdened ring bearer encouragement to keep going.
I know there are many people, believers and unbelievers, who have been terribly hurt by cruel circumstances and events. They have been unable or unwilling to see God in the daily happenings of their lives. I am sorry. Life’s events can be very painful, causing anger and depression. Adverse happenings can cause us to believe that a God who is good and loving is not there for us. Such feeling is certainly understandable and I offer no explanation, or words of rebuttal to those who feel let down. All I can say is that we must all choose how we look at life and we must all live with our choices. (Joshua 24:15) But think about it, is the brokenness in my life being helped by the choices I am making in the midst of my pain? Are the choices I am making truly good or right choices? Could there be a God who is able to restore my life to peace and wholeness, if only I were willing to trust Him, and if only I had the eyes to see Him as my helper? (1 Peter 1:3-9) Certainly there are stories in your life that would give you confidence that God cares about you and is with you. Seeing that God has been involved in present or past happenings of your daily life can be a sign of hope for you, in dark times, that He will fulfill His promises and that things will turn out for good. (Romans 8:28; Joshua 21:45) God is at work in our lives more than we know. (John 5:17; Proverbs 16:9) Trust Him, rest from your struggles and doubts, learn, and be at peace in the midst of your circumstances. (Proverbs 3:5-6)