Is It Chance or Sovereignty?
As newlyweds driving across the country to our new home, my husband and I took a mid-trip excursion in the Rockies. We hiked, wandered, drank chai, and chased the moody mountains in good Coloradan fashion. (If you really want to get the “feels” we got while there, listen to “Colorado” by Grizzly Bear.) At one point, we decided to explore the small downtown area of Estes Park. While browsing a block of fudge shops and hiking-gear retailers, we found ourselves in a record store. After thumbing through a selection of Bon Iver and Radiohead records, we decided to leave through the back door and within moments I found myself face-to-face with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years.
A “Chance” Encounter
We have all had encounters like this, or at least heard stories about people who have, where the minutiae, usually small and ignorable, become suddenly a necessary part of something significant. “If I hadn’t gone through that particular door,” “If I had just kept walking,” “If I had been there only seconds before or after”—all of these are common expressions after happening upon the miraculous or grim or perhaps even a friend you haven’t seen in years. The one and the many have met, here, just for an instance, and we wonder at the rarity.
In such occurrences it is easy to wonder about things like chance and fate. We find ourselves wondering if this was all a coincidence, a fluke brought about by the universe or some other impersonal, cosmic force. Yet, it feels pretty personal, doesn’t it? And if merely a coincidence, does it really matter? If you are still reading, my guess is that it matters to you. (Spoiler alert: it is personal, and it matters to God, too.)
It Is Personal
Our God is a personal God, for whom the small things, like backdoors of record shops and a street called “‘Elkhorn” in Colorado, matter—even though to us they may seem relatively mundane or insignificant. Our God is a near God, near to us in these small things. As the psalmist asks God in Psalm 8:4, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” In Psalm 139:2-4, this psalmist cries out again, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.”
What this means, dear reader, is that you and your life also matter to God. As Matthew 6:26 says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Nothing about your life is insignificant to God. Moreover, nothing is outside of his control. God being sovereign over all, there is no room for chance, coincidence, or even forces of the universe.
God Is Near in the Details
So, what are we to do with this knowledge? The psalmist gives us the answer in Psalm 139:6. As one who is lowly, he bows his heart to God, to the Most High, saying such knowledge is too wonderful for him. It is not just the quantity of the knowledge, though immeasurable. It is also the quality. This knowledge is unreachably high because it is actually other—it is a kind of knowledge that belongs only to God, which no creature can grasp except by analogy.
Perhaps upon our realization of this knowledge, which we can only describe with words like “grandeur,” “high,” and “infinite,” we feel a sort of awe. Then we look at the clothes we put on today, the doorway we entered moments ago, and the glass of water beside us, and—in our own creaturely way—we come to understand that God is the giver of these things.
For God, sovereign over all, knowing all, nothing is accidental. This leaves us with many questions. We want to know the how’s and the why’s of our stories. Many of these questions are, as the psalmist says, “too wonderful” for us. Yet, God knows. We can be comforted by the fact that he is near to us, even in this, and that as our good Father, he holds every detail of our stories in his hand.
If you would like to read more about God’s nearness and providence in your life, please check out these recommended books:
The Providence of God by Paul Helm
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper and Justin Taylor