The Question of Coincidence, or 3 Ways to Interpret Chance

The Question of Coincidence Fall Photo

Last week, in a fabric shoppe far from home, I tagged a likely stranger to ask if the piece of knit I was excited about was a color I could wear.

That began a long conversation between us full of coincidences and chance commonalities and helpful information.

I left the encounter feeling blessed.

It felt like more than chance or coincidence.

Why was she there when I needed to hear what she had to say?  Why did we start talking about autism?

She shared the touching story of her daughter’s journey with an autistic son, which so closely paralleled our own. She said, “They were guided each step of the way by the Hand of the Lord.  Each time they needed something to happen, and they prayed for help, God provided the right person to help them achieve the goal they were seeking.”

As I look back on our journey, I realize that I took the help we received for granted. I knew my family would stand in the gap; I expected my church to show the love and care they provided.  I never doubted that God could take care of my daughter in the many situations she encountered where only He could rescue her.

But I should be more thankful, more purposefully aware of what God accomplished all along the way.

Thankful watercolor frame mantel photo

Was this sweet lady, (who kindly quibbled and said she was sure the fabric would be fine, but when that first enthusiasm dimmed and reason returned, I knew clearly it wouldn’t work), a messenger from God, placed in that shoppe on purpose?

1. Does God plan chance encounters for our benefit?

Does belief in Him and His desire for our best outcomes cause us to label them as Godly interventions and/or blessings?

A wise person on a Yahoo forum said,

There’s no such thing as coincidence. Everything happens for a reason. Open your senses and you’ll start to notice that these “coincidences” turn out to be some sort of aspect of your life or “destiny” that you’ve only begun to notice. Life is your destiny. Coincidences are just a skeptic’s piece of the pie.

Yogi Berra said, “That’s too coincidental to be a coincidence.”

Meaning that it must have been planned or allowed by Someone.

The word coincidence is translated from the Greek word synkyrian, which is a combination of two words syn and kurios. Syn means “together with,” and kurios means “supreme in authority.” A biblical definition then would be “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”  Source.

My favorite coincidence in the Bible, and not only because this is the Season we’re heading into, is the story of Jesus’ birth.  Old Testament prophesy puts Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

What are the chances that, hundreds of years later, this poor couple from Nazareth would be forced to travel to Bethlehem so close to Mary’s due date?

No chance at all.  It was God’s plan.

come let us adore him watercolor hand lettered sign

2. Some people never experience coincidences.

If we didn’t believe in a Higher Power, would we even notice coincidences?

“A coincidence itself is in the eye of the beholder,” says David Spiegelhalter, the Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge. If a rare event happens in a forest and no one notices and no one cares, it’s not really a coincidence.  Source

Dr. David Spiegelhalter collects stories about coincidences.  But he says he never experiences them himself.  He never talks to anybody on trains, or looks for a connection when he meets someone. His website, Understanding Uncertainty, wants to hear your stories about coincidences.  Even though he never has any himself, he wants to study who has them and why.

He tends to believe it’s only some types of brains that have them, or certain personalities.

Which may be true.

But I’m glad my brain tends that way, because it makes life more fun.

Like last night in a conversation with my grand-littles, the middle one asked, “Who took Grandpa to heaven?”  Coincidentally, they weren’t at my father’s funeral last week, but attended their step-grandmother’s, closer to home.  So their minds were on the same things as mine, and what an awesome chance for discussion.  Even though my 3 year old loved the thought of angels flying people to heaven, she didn’t want to be an angel yet.  Thankfully.

autumn, autumn colours, autumn leaves

3. Coincidences are just random events that have no meaning.

A story told to support this theory is about a certain nurse, Violet Jessop, who worked for the White Star Line and lived through three ocean liner crashes: the Olympic in 1911, the Titanic in 1912, and four years later, the Britannic.

The fact that she was on all three ocean liners when they crashed, and survived all three, seems random now.

Did it have meaning to her, or someone she knew back then?

It’s highly likely.

On the day we were holding vigil, waiting for the outcome of Dad’s nurse’s prediction that his address would soon change, I was calm all day.

Then, in the evening, I suddenly felt gripped with unease, even fear.

Later I discovered that feeling coincided with the time of his passing.

This coincidence didn’t have meaning for anyone other than myself, but I believe God gave me that feeling, and I treasure it.

Coincidence quote by Charlotte Armstrong on fall leaves image


Do coincidences have meaning for you?