When I pray, coincidences happen

“Clearly you were meant to be here! ” concluded Jennifer’s husband this Sunday, careful in his use of the passive voice to avoid any mention of God.

But sometimes coincidence cannot easily be explained away.  For what we call ‘coincidence’ is at the very heart of our universe.

For this Sunday’s Remembrance Day sermon I focussed on two friends killed in the service of our country, Danny Ashcroft and Benny Stockley. Nearly all of the information and all of the photos came from Danny’s family.  Sadly Benny was an only child and his branch of the family was to perish with him.  The Stockley’s are no more, so I thought.

Jennifer rarely comes to church – I can’t recall ever seeing her at Christ Church.  However, her husband was invited by the parish council to join them for our Remembrance Day Parade service.  He has been a few times to the St Michael’s service but never to ours.

Anyway, this year he decided to come – and Jennifer who previously has never accompanied him decided to come with him on the spur of the moment.  Nothing special;  she just thought she should come.  Might as well.

So imagine her shock when the photo of Benny Stockley appeared on the screens.  Her cousin.  She had no idea that I was to tell his story.   As you can imagine, it was a deeply moving experience for her;  she is the only member of his family left.

I called round to see her and her husband on Tuesday.  As I expected she had no inner call to attend our service, no whisper from an angel, not even an ill-defined compulsion of having to be there.  Simply: “I might as well – I’m not doing anything else this morning!”

As I have mentioned before, it is always a good exercise when we find ourselves in a God-incidence to work out how God organized the incident.   Invariably it is simply through our ordinary, everyday, matter of fact thinking.  Nothing special.  It’s importance to realize that is how God works – he’s as close as that.

It was the greatest of all Archbishops of Canterbury (so far), William Temple, who observed:  “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.”

For coincidence – or at least, what we think of as coincidence –  is how this creation came into being.  For coincidence – observed Albert Einstein –  is God’s way of remaining anonymous!

That God created this incredible universe (there may be others) is at the heart of our faith, how we understand life, our very existence.  How he did it is for the scientists to work out, a noble calling.

I am fascinated by the book “The Goldilocks Enigma” – it was trailed in the Andrew Marr Radio 4 Monday morning programme a few years back.  So I bought it.  By Paul Davies, a leading physicist and as far as I am aware, not a Christian.

He argues (hence the title of the book) that like baby bear’s porridge in the story of Goldilocks, the universe seems to be just right for life.

He writes:  “Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves.

“For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal.”

He continues:  “To see the problem, imagine playing God with the cosmos. Before you is a designer machine that lets you tinker with the basics of physics. Twiddle this knob and you make all electrons a bit lighter, twiddle that one and you make gravity a bit stronger, and so on.

“It happens that you need to set thirty-something knobs to fully describe the world about us. The crucial point is that some of those metaphorical knobs must be tuned very precisely, or the universe would be sterile.”

Sadly many scientists, many people – like Jennifer’s husband  – do their best to keep God out of it.   They look at this incredible creation and say “It’s just a coincidence.”

But coincidences are there for a purpose – whether to form life or to encourage Jennifer to take the next step of faith towards knowing God.

And it is no coincidence that everything conspired together to nail Jesus to a cross.  That is how God orders his creation.  For us.