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Answer to Prayer: God or Coincidence

Matthew Ferri January 14, 2015


Do you believe that you play a role in God’s plan? Do you believe that you’re woven somewhere in that huge tapestry of His that runs as far as east is from west – a tapestry so large that no man could fathom it even if he had his entire life to study its workings?

Of course you do.

After all, God’s the master builder (1 Cor. 3:10;Hebrews 3:4); He’s the author of authors; He created the concept of creatingJeremiah 29 teaches us that He has a plan for us. The whole Bible teaches us that planning is part and parcel with being God!

We know this, of course; yet too often, when we ask God for something and He grants it, we wonder, at least in part, if it was just a coincidence, if it was truly God. It’s a troubling thought that’s supported by the times when we ask for something and He doesn’t grant it. Argh!

My own doubts

I’ve been writing a novel for some time now, but it hasn’t been without its doubts. I sometimes wonder if God really wants me to write the book, or if it’s just my wishful thinking standing in God’s place – get my meaning? I wonder this despite the fact that, almost a year ago, when I asked Him for more passion to write, He responded within the week.

But then, a month back, I did like the disciples and got all doubtful again. So again I prayed, “God, I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t honour you. I don’t want to write a book if it doesn’t come with your blessing. Please, please reassure me that writing this book is in line with your will.” I followed up that prayer the next day with something that went like this: “God, I know that writing is the vocation to which you’ve called me, but it’s hard working from home. So I pray that, one day, you’ll grant me an office space in which to write.”

The operative term was ‘one day’. It was a vague prayer, which, in my mind, would take years, if not decades, to be answered. It took a week.

The following Monday my pastor offered me a vacant office at church. I hadn’t even told him that I wanted one. Not to mention that he gave it to me for free! Now I even have a key to the building. Everyone’s on holiday, and the place is mine! If this key sitting in my hands isn’t assurance from God, then I don’t know what is.

Incidental vs coincidental

You know what a coincidence really is? A bad plot device – at least most of the time. If one day you choose to write a book, particularly a mystery or political intrigue, you’ll want to avoid coincidences as often as possible. By this I mean the times when characters just happen to be at the right place at the right time to overhear conversations not meant for their ears. Argh!

In fiction, a coincidence is generally a shortcut method for an author to get their characters informed so that the plot can move on. And the plot moving on due to that coincidence is exactly when we readers are given leave to grimace. It’s the author turning up and saying, “Yes, I confess; I put the character there just so she could discover the revelation.” It breaks the immersion because it’s the author’s job not to be noticed.

To put it tritely, we glimpse the creator behind the coincidence.

So, how do you spot a bad coincidence? Well, when it occurs for the sake of the plot, it’s ‘too convenient’; it begs the question, “Did that really ‘just happen’?” No. More than likely, the author got lazy.

A good coincidence, though – a coincidence done right – is supposed to bespeak divine or supernatural intervention. Arthur, for instance, didn’t get to be the only one who could pull the sword out of the stone and then declare, “It must have been luck!” Gandalf, likewise, didn’t get to return from the grave just as reinforcements were needed and shout, “Chance is on our side, men!” So you and I don’t get to have God answer our prayers and then wonder if God really, truly did answer our prayers!

In fact, unlike human authors, God is meant to be noticed, and so is His handiwork (Psalm 19:1). Those bajillion stars in the sky don’t ‘just exist’.

Don’t be too liberal

Now, I’m not saying that coincidences, in their strictest sense, don’t happen – and this is why we need to be careful. If two characters Leeroy and Leah don’t fall in love, or become friends, or share any sort of relationship at all, then the fact that the author gave them names beginning with L was probably just a coincidence. Similarly, if I asked God to prevent me from running over a cat, and then proceeded to not run over any cats, then it would probably not be so much God who cleared the road of cats for me, but rather that the road was already clear to begin with. Again, just a coincidence.

In short, pay attention to the events, but don’t attribute every single event to God.

God is the Master Author, mind you, so it’s only fair that He’s also the Master of Coincidence. Every so often He lets fly some author magic to keep the plot moving. But sometimes He makes it obvious; He does like a lazy author and reveals Himself. Only, God isn’t lazy; when He reveals Himself – when He writes in a coincidence – He’s doing it to show us that He’s there, that He’s always there, and that His huge tapestry comprising our existence isn’t some inflated random event, but is, in fact, very much planned.

Authors like to be given credit

It’s ironic: when we request something of God, we’re basically asking Him to hand us a coincidence. We’re asking Him for a dose of author magic. When nothing transpires, we make do, though our faith might wilt a little. But even when the coincidence does occur, we fail to credit God as its author, to see the Creator behind the coincidence.

One of my favourite (satirical) quotes comes from author Terry Pratchett. “In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.” Pratchett isn’t a Christian, but even he acknowledges that a story wouldn’t exist unless there was someone to tell it.

We’re all characters in God’s book, and it’s not easy noticing the pages when you’re inside them. That’s why we have coincidences; they’re dead giveaways. The next time you’re confronted with a locked door and you ask for the key – if it appears in your hand, trust that it’s the Unseen Author throwing His arms in the air and saying, “Yeah, all right.” And if it doesn’t, trust Him anyway. He’s got a more interesting plot prepared for you.

Photo Credit: Simon & His Camera via Compfight cc

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