Yesterday while browsing the bargain bookshelves at Barnes & Nobles I ran across a book titled, “More Than Coincidence” (2015), by the Editors of Guideposts. The book contains eighty stories that “will astonish, comfort, and inspire” readers from the pages of Mysterious Ways, a magazine born of the most popular feature in Guideposts” (quote source from the back cover of the book). The “Introduction” to the book opens with the following paragraphs:
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV). Time and again we see evidence that reveals God’s involvement in our everyday lives. Sometimes the heaven-sent guidance is overlooked when we brush it off as coincidence. Other times, we can think of it as nothing less than a miracle.
Van Varner, the former editor of “Guideposts” magazine, wrote: “Faith is made of mystery and awe; it is not in knowing the tangible but in believing in the intangible that our faith flourishes. The hidden hand of God moves silently, leaving behind evidence of things unseen.”
This is the very idea this book explores: it is in those moments, when we see God’s mysterious touch in our lives, that our faith is the strongest. Though we can’t always understand His methods, we know that He is directing us toward the right path or helping us through the tough times. (Quote source: Introduction to “More Than Coincidence.”)
As I was reading over a few stories in the book last night, a memory from over four decades ago in my own life came to mind. I was 22 years old and I had just completed Basic Training and AIT (advanced individual training) in the United States Army, and I had received orders to be stationed in South Korea. I first arrived in Seoul, South Korea, to be “processed” before going to my duty station which was located just outside of Pusan (Busan), South Korea, the second largest city located on the southern coast of South Korea. However, my first stop was to be at a U.S. Army base just north of Taegu (Daegu), about three quarters of the way down between Seoul and Pusan. After I was “processed” in Seoul, a Sergeant took me to the train station in Seoul to board a train heading south to the southern coast of South Korea with many stops in between. I was told to get off the train at Waegwan, South Korea, a small town where Camp Carroll Army Depot was located. When I asked how I would know when to get off the train, the sergeant just laughed and said to get off “in about twelve stops.” There were no signs in English for me to read to have any idea when I was approaching Waegwan.
I boarded the train and quickly discovered that I was the only American in the section of the train where I was seated. I was dressed in a “Class A” U.S. Army uniform and my light blonde hair and tall frame really made me stand out among the rest of the passengers who were all Korean. I put my duffel bag on the overhead storage area above my head and took my seat between two Korean passengers. I knew no Korean and they knew no English, so the ride was a quiet one. I started counting the stops as it was the only way I had any idea of when I might be getting close to the town where I needed to get off. As we traveled south periodically I noticed towers outside the window with guards stationed at the top of the towers. At each stop the train would slow down to let passengers off, but it quickly started back up again and moved on. All signs were in Korean so I had no idea what towns I had passed as we traveled south.
When we came to the 12th stop I remembered that the sergeant told me it would be “about” 12 stops but the 12th stop came and went and I had no idea exactly when to get off. As we were approaching another town the train started to slow down again to let passengers off. From out of nowhere an older Korean woman dressed in traditional Korean attire (not a staff person on the train) appeared standing in the aisle facing me and motioned to my duffel bag in the luggage rack over my head. She didn’t speak English but I could tell she wanted me to take it down, so I got out of my seat and took it down. As the train came to a stop, the exit door to the cabin located close to my seat opened, and she picked up my duffel bag and threw it out the door onto the ground, and I got off the train. The train quickly started up again and was soon gone, and I was left standing there with my duffel bag wondering what I should do now. There was no one else around me, and as I looked around (the stop was in an area that looked like it was in the middle of a field), in the distance I could see a vehicle coming in my direction. It turned out to be a jeep with a man dressed in Army fatigues seated behind the steering wheel, and he stopped and asked me if I was PFC (my last name). I concurred that I was, so he picked up my duffel bag and we drove a couple of miles to the Army depot I was scheduled to stop at on my way to Pusan.
When I look back at that experience several decades ago, there was no doubt a bit of “divine intervention” helped me get to that U.S. Army depot since my instructions were very sketchy at best, and I had no idea when I was supposed to get off that train. As it turned out, I ended up being stationed at that Army depot instead of going on to Pusan, so I remained there for my tour of duty in South Korea.
No doubt my story could fit in the pages of “More Than Coincidence.” I liked the very first story in the book as when I read the story, it reminded me of my own story. This story is titled, “Lost and Found in Paris,” by Aminda Parafinik on pp. 1-3: Here is her story:
Lost And Found in Paris
by Aminda Parafinik
My heart pounded. My hands were clammy. I was on the verge of panic. The tangle of multicolored lines on the Paris Metro map made my head spin. I asked a ticket-booth attendant for help. He shot me a dismissive look. How could I have been so careless? The world never felt so big, and I never felt so small, so lost. I’d come to Paris in hopes of finding myself. Now I couldn’t even find my way back to my hostel.
“If you’re lost in Paris, just look for the Eiffel Tower,” another traveler told me when I arrived from Arizona. If only there were a guidepost to help me find my way in life! Two months earlier, I’d been downsized from my job as an editorial assistant, my second job since graduating from college with a degree in communications. I’d thought I would be climbing the ranks by twenty-five. Instead, I was out of work. I felt like a loser.
I dreamed of getting away. That’s when I got the idea for this trip. I’d been fascinated by “the City of Light” ever since I was a little girl. I had some money saved up. What better place was there to be inspired again?
I took in the awesome views from the top of the Eiffel Tower, gawked at the luxury shops along the Champs-Elysees, saw the magnificent Palace of Versailles. Today, though, after exploring exhibits at the Louvre and visiting the gargoyles at Notre Dame, I’d taken a wrong turn. The narrow streets surrounding the cathedral were like a maze. In the spirit of adventure, I kept going . . . until it got dark. I could see the Eiffel Tower, a finger of light, impossibly distant. I searched for more than an hour until I found what I thought was the right Metro stop, but it was for a different line then the one that let off near my hostel.
I turned away from the ticket booth and the reality of my situation hit me. I’d been crazy to spend my savings on this trip, trying to “find myself.” When–or if–I got home, then what? “Lord,” I whispered, “please help me. I am so lost.”
“Excusez moi.” A tall, brown-haired man startled me. A little older than me, clean-cut, dressed like a businessmen. “Can I help you?” he asked, with just a hint of a French accent.
“I need to get to Felix Faure,” I said, trying to keep my voice from quivering.
“Follow me,” he said. Normally, I wouldn’t but there was something about him. He seemed trustworthy. Confident. Besides, did I have a choice?
Striding through the dark streets, we made small talk. “Where are you from?” he asked. “The United States, obviously,” he added, smiling. “But where?”
“Phoenix,” I said, “It’s in Arizona, the Southwest . . .”
“Really?” he interrupted. “Have you heard of The Thunderbird School of Global Management?”
I vaguely remembered that name from a billboard near my freeway exit. Of all the things in Phoenix to ask about. “I don’t really know much about it,” I said.
He paused, then looked at me quizzically as if he wanted to continue. But by then we’d reached the Metro line I needed. “Hurry, you don’t want to miss your train,” he said. I thanked him, then dashed down the stairs. Before long, I was back at the hostel. The rest of my time in Paris was uneventful, even restful. Something about that encounter seemed to calm me.
Okay, time to get back to my life. My first week home, I sent out more resumes. Nothing.
That weekend, I was scanning the want ads when a position caught my eye. They needed someone with a communications degree, and the responsibilities matched what I’d done in the past. Program assistant for an executive MBA program. I liked the sound of that.
I liked the sound of the employer, too. The Thunderbird School of Global Management. Suddenly, the world seemed very small. I applied and was called in for an interview.
Guess who got the job? (Quote source, “More Than Coincidence,” pp. 1-3.)
The book is filled with stories like this one. Albert Einstein once stated, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous” (quote source here). I’m of the mind that “coincidences” happen to remind us of God and just how much He guides our steps.
In a response to the question, “Are there such things as coincidences?” GotQuestions.org gives us the biblical perspective to that question:
The word “coincidence” is used only once in the New Testament, and it was by Jesus Himself in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke 10:31, Jesus said, “And by a coincidence a certain priest was going down in that way, and having seen him, he passed over on the opposite side.” The word “coincidence” is translated from the Greek word “synkyrian,” which is a combination of two words: “sun” and “kurios.” “Sun” means “together with,” and “kurious” means “supreme in authority.” So a biblical definition of “coincidence” would be “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”
What appears to us as random chance is in fact overseen by a sovereign God who knows the number of hairs on every head (Luke 12:7). Jesus said that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s notice (Matthew 10:29). In Isaiah 46:9–11, God states unequivocally that He is in charge of everything: “I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.”
When we consider life events, we tend to classify them as “important” or “unimportant.” Many people have no problem believing that God is in charge of the “big things” but assume that such a big God would not trouble Himself with the seemingly miniscule events of our everyday lives. However, that understanding is colored by our human limitations and not supported by Scripture. For God, there are no unimportant events. He does not need to conserve His strength because His power is limitless. His attention is never divided. If the Lord God tracks every sparrow (Matthew 10:29), then nothing is too small for His attention. He is often referred to as the Almighty (Genesis 17:1; Exodus 6:3; Job 13:3), a name denoting unrestricted power and absolute dominion.
Citing coincidence is how we humans explain unexpected events and surprise meetings. But just because we are taken by surprise does not mean that God is. Scripture is clear that God allows sinful humans to make mistakes and reap the consequences of those mistakes, but only a sovereign God could also promise that He will make “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). In ways known only to God, He takes even our mistakes and unplanned events and weaves them together to fulfill His purposes.
In Old Testament times, God often used the Urim and Thummin, pieces of the high priest’s ephod, to help give guidance and instruction (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; 1 Samuel 30:7–8). In the New Testament, we see the apostles trusting God’s sovereignty when they cast lots to choose a new disciple to replace Judas (Acts 1:26). Though each of these means of communication seems insignificant, God has shown throughout Scripture that He can use the smallest object or event for His purposes. God does not seem to allow for “coincidence.” The administration of the universe is not based on serendipity. The Bible says that God’s purposes will prevail and that He is in control of even the most random event (Proverbs 19:21). Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” What may seem insignificant to us may be in fact a result of God’s omniscient power working on our behalf to accomplish His will in our lives. (Quote source here.)
“The Bible says that God’s purposes will prevail and that He is in control of even the most random event.” If we truly believe that statement, then we can take comfort that God is always in control regardless of our circumstances and our coincidences. . . .
Many are the plans in a person’s heart . . .
But it is the Lord’s purpose . . .
That prevails . . . . (Proverb 19:21)
YouTube Video: “Coincidence? I Think NOT!” from the movie, The Incredibles (2012):