All of us at some times have probably experienced remarkable coincidences. We might have heard several unrelated people refer to the same specific thing in a short space of time. Or perhaps we have kept reading identical words in different places. Or maybe we have met someone we know in a very unexpected location.
WHAT I MEAN BY “COINCIDENCE”
Before going any further, I need to explain that in this article I will be using the word “coincidence” in a rather unusual way. Usually, when people use this word, they are referring to an event with two aspects to it. First, there is a remarkable concurrence of events. And second, this concurrence of events happens by pure chance.
In this article, when I use the word “coincidence,” I will be thinking of an event that has the first of the above aspects but not the second. I will be referring to a remarkable concurrence of events, but I will not be implying that it happens by pure chance.
If I could, I would use another word to refer to this concept, but I don’t think the English language contains one. So I will use “coincidence,” without implying that the event in question happens by pure chance.
DOES GOD SPEAK THROUGH COINCIDENCES?
So, all of us experience coincidences from time to time in various ways. But this raises a question. Does God speak to Christians through coincidences?
I am convinced that He does and that there are two mistakes that Christians often make in this area, one much more serious than the other. Let’s consider these in turn.
THE MISTAKE OF DENYING THAT GOD EVER SPEAKS THROUGH COINCIDENCES
The first and less serious mistake is to deny that God ever speaks to His children through coincidences. There are many Christians who will testify that He has spoken to them in this way.
Here are three examples from my own life in which I am at least fairly sure that God spoke to me using coincidences.
The Royal Blind School
At one time many years ago I was thinking and praying about whether I should approach the
in Royal Blind
School with a view to
doing a little work there. Edinburgh
Most of the details have faded from my memory now, but I do remember that during that time of seeking God I kept hearing references to blind people. For example, I would turn on the radio, and there was a discussion involving blind people taking place. Or I would be speaking to someone, who didn’t know about my situation, and out of the blue they would refer to blind people. This happened quite a number of times, far more than would have been expected in the normal course of my life.
As it happens, I did go to do the work, and everything about it seemed right and from God. At the time I was pretty sure that God had caused the coincidences and had spoken to me through them, and looking back I feel exactly the same.
I can think of a time about 25 years ago when I met up with two Christian friends. None of us had seen the other two for a while.
Soon after we met, one of my friends, with a smile, showed me an inflatable globe that he had just come into possession of. I can’t remember if someone had given it to him or he had bought it, but he had acquired it very recently, I think within the previous few days. He was amused about showing it to me, because an inflatable globe is something that you would more expect a child to have than a man in his mid-20s, as all three of us were at the time.
When he showed me the globe, I immediately said how surprising it was that he had one, because in the previous few days someone had also given me one! Then our third friend said that he too had been given one very recently, I think within a few days!
This really was an amazing coincidence. I’m not sure that I have even seen an inflatable globe in the years since, and I have no reason to believe that they were especially popular at the time. There were only three of us there, and we had all come into possession of one very recently, I think within the previous few days.
I don’t know if my friends believed that God was speaking through this coincidence. In my case, however, I took the matter to the Lord. After pondering and praying, I was pretty sure that He was speaking to me, telling me that I needed to be a world Christian, to take an interest in what was going on in His church all over the world.
Looking back, I believe no differently now. I really do think that God spoke to me through this coincidence. And I think I can see something of His sense of humoUr in the type of coincidence He arranged at this time.
I am sure that some who read this will find it implausible that God would speak in a bizarre way like the one I have just mentioned. However, the Bible contains numerous examples of God speaking and acting in strange ways (if I can use the word “strange” reverently). And since the God of Scripture and the God we Christians know are one and the same, it should not be surprising if He chooses to act strangely at times in His relationships with us.
Words in a book
I can also think of an occasion when I was sitting in a room with two other Christians. I was reading a Christian book and they were having a conversation.
I heard one of them say to the other that he was worried about his finances. This caught my attention, so I looked up from my reading for a few seconds. Then I started to read again, and the subject matter in the book immediately changed (in the very next sentence, if I remember rightly) and the author encouraged the readers to trust God for their finances. I then told the worried person what had happened.
I’m not sure if he believed that God was speaking through what happened. However, I did, and still do, think that He was.
Being open to God speaking through coincidences
I have heard many other Christians claim that God has spoken to them through coincidences, and I am sure that much of the testimony is of real experiences of Him. So I believe strongly that it is a mistake to say that God doesn’t speak in this way.
As far as I understand God’s ways of doing things, I think it is quite rare for Him to force His will on His children. If this is right, it means that if a Christian is closed to the possibility that God might speak through coincidences, it would be unlikely that He would in fact choose to speak in that way, although He might like to.
Closing ourselves off from the possibility of God doing something is not only morally wrong, but it can also deprive us of real blessing. Seeing God speak in coincidences has not only helped me to hear something that He was saying, but it has also deepened my faith and has been a source of joy.
THE MISTAKE OF THINKING GOD MUST BE SPEAKING IN EVERY COINCIDENCE
Although it is a mistake to say that God never speaks through coincidences, there is another, much more serious, mistake that some Christians make. This is to imagine that whenever a Christian experiences a coincidence, God must be speaking in it.
Of course, God is fully sovereign over all that we encounter, so nothing happens by pure chance. But to suppose that He has to be speaking in every coincidence we experience is completely unwarranted. Given all the things we do, the places we go to, and the people we meet, we would expect coincidences, even striking ones, to happen occasionally, even without God directing events.
I can think of times in my own life, for example, when I have met someone I know in a very unexpected place, and I have asked God if He was saying anything in this, only to conclude that He was saying nothing and that the coincidence had no significance.
I also believe that some coincidences can have a demonic origin, and I think I may have experienced something of this myself.
Automatically assuming that God must be speaking in coincidences can actually be very dangerous, if we end up basing an important decision purely on a coincidence we have seen.
THE TESTIMONY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The key thing in hearing anything from God is for the Holy Spirit to testify to our spirits that something is true (compare Romans ). And this includes hearing Him speak through coincidences.
Coincidences might occasionally be part of the means that the Spirit uses to bring us to a place where we can hear Him saying something. But coincidences should never be confused with the Spirit’s voice itself.
In the examples I gave above in which I think God was speaking to me through coincidences, I wasn’t using my mind to reason that God had spoken to me. I wasn’t saying that because I had experienced a remarkable coincidence, God must have spoken. Rather, I think I could hear His Spirit speaking to me through those coincidences.
At other times when I have experienced coincidences, I have heard no voice of the Spirit saying anything. The testimony of the Spirit is always the key thing in hearing God speak.
In conclusion, then, we should take an open, balanced and cautious approach to the issue of God speaking to Christians through coincidences.
He does sometimes speak in this way, and it is wrong for us to close ourselves off from it. On the other hand, however, we shouldn’t naively assume that He must be speaking in every coincidence. Finally, we need to recogniSe that even when God speaks through a coincidence, the coincidence is simply a means through which we are supposed to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.