Ken Godevenos is the author of Human Resources for the Church: Applying Corporate Practices in a Spiritual Setting and is active in Christian missions and service. He strongly believes that God directs his life sometimes through coincidences. He finds support for his belief in many stories from the Bible. In this post Ken describes several biblical stories with his understanding of how coincidences work.
The word ‘coincidence’ is used only once in the Bible and that was by Jesus Himself when He was teaching 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.” It is translated from the Greek word synkyrian, which is a combination of two words syn and kurios. Syn means “together with,” and kurious means “supreme in authority.” A biblical definition then would be “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.
After reading Dr. Bernard D. Beitman’s book, Connecting with Coincidence (HCI, 2016) and writing a review (read it at Epistoli), I participated on his show (hear it here). What I presented was the perspective of a person of faith when it comes to ‘coincidences’ which I define as “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection”. Here, I limit my arguments for this viewpoint to examples of what some would call ‘coincidence’ in the Judeo-Christian Old, and the Christian New, Testaments. Coincidence is not limited to the “precognition” type, i.e. requiring a predicted event – although some of the examples below (the first four for example) could well fall into that category.
Four Examples of Precognition Type of Coincidence in the Bible
1) The story of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 1 and ff.). Naomi was eager to find a new home for Ruth who had recently been widowed, so that she would be taken care of after Naomi had died. She instructed Ruth as to how to treat Boaz and to secretly “lie at his feet” when he was resting and to follow his instruction. She predicted Boaz would react positively and want her for himself. (Ruth 3) And that is exactly what happened. Was it also just coincidence that Ruth went to live with the older Naomi and take good care of her which was what endeared Boaz to her? Or that on her own, she ended up in Boaz’s field first?
2) Joseph and Mary (Luke 2 in the New Testament). Mary was pregnant with child. The prophet Micah in the Old Testament had predicted (in Micah 5:2) that a ruler would be born in Bethlehem. Joseph happened to be a descendent of David, and thus had to go to the town of David, which was Bethlehem to be enumerated and taxed at the precise time Jesus was to be born? And while Micah predicts the birth of simply a ruler in Bethlehem, the reference is clearly to a Lord as later in chapter 7:12, he talks about someone who will bring the ultimate salvation to Israel.
3) Finding Isaac’s wife. In Genesis 24, we read about Abraham’s servant being sent to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham also predicted that this wife would come from among his own distant relatives. The servant prayed to God that the sign for knowing who that woman was to be would be that when she was asked for water by the servant, she would also offer to water his camels (and there were many of them since he had a party of his own people with him). While this may be expected of anyone as an act of kindness, we see coincidence in the fact that it was Rebekah who was the first to appear right after the servant had prayed and asked to be blessed in his mission; she was from Abraham’s distant relatives; and even though she had some nobility in her veins, she took the time and effort to lug water for all the camels.
4) Joseph. He was sold by his brothers to merchants on their way to Egypt (Genesis 37:12-36). He had gone to take food to his brothers tending flocks at the same time these merchants were passed through and willing to buy him and sell him as a slave, in Egypt. Ultimately, he became second in command to the Pharaoh and saved his own people from starvation This was predicted in the earlier part of Genesis 37:5-11 when Joseph had two dreams and shared them with brothers and father. This was an unexpected “reuniting” between close family members.
An example of a non-precognitive type of coincidence
5) Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). This high court official of Queen Candace of Ethiopia had traveled to Jerusalem to worship God. Because of who he was and the Jewish rules, he was unsuccessful in gaining access to the temple. But he was persistent and wanted to learn more about Him. So, he finds and purchases a scroll of a portion of the Old Testament to read on his return trip, by chariot, to Ethiopia. It happened to be a copy of the book of Isaiah. Then Philip, the Evangelist, who was nearby, approaches his chariot and simply asked if the Eunuch understood what he was reading, ultimately helping him convert to Christianity and get baptized. For his part, the Eunuch had not given up after not being able to enter the temple to worship, but instead got himself a scroll to read. And interestingly, the scroll was indeed Isaiah which elsewhere (Isaiah 56) tells us that Eunuchs can also find salvation? (What a confirmation for this man.)
Indeed, independent circumstances are sometimes aligned beautifully. But to anyone who believes in a Divine Supreme Being that sincerely cares for the welfare of His creations, such occurrences are more than mere coincidences. In Jeremiah chapter 29, verse 11, God says, “For I know the plans that I have for you, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” In his book, Dr. Beitman states that the two most popular ‘explanations’ for coincidences are a) God-Mystery and b) random chance. I tend to favor the former.
The implications for the fulfillment of history are significant. Believing all these were left to “random chance” requires more faith than deeming them “God-Mysteries” – and to the believer, they’re not always that mysterious.
Believers accept that what appears as coincidence is indeed orchestrated by a sovereign God Who cares about the little sparrow and the hairs we have on our heads (Matthew 10:29-31). For me, God is not just in charge of the ‘big events’ in life but also our everyday challenges.
As Gotquestions.org says: “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.”
Ken believes that God acts in each person's life and that coincidences are one way to do that. When there is an explanation for a coincidence, there are no coincidences.
Beliefs are foundational to our views of the world. Some beliefs are open to empirical testing, not just by scientists but by everyone. Gravity, for example, can be tested everyday by dropping an apple from your hand. Proof of God requires some empirical testing and also requires faith—belief by feeling, by intuition, by a "sense of knowing."
Do you believe that there is a God who is directing your life? Einstein (p.39) expressed his belief in this way: "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings."
Into the ambiguity surrounding the meaning of our lives, we can project strongly held beliefs. The ambiguity of many coincidences invites projection of our beliefs. I believe in a greater intelligence within and outside of us waiting to be more fully acknowledged and used. My quest in studying coincidences is to help us pull back the veil of mystery to reveal the nature of this intelligence.