Monday, June 15, 2015

Providential Coincidence

Since meeting the first real person I've known with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) about two and a half months ago, I've started wondering just how involved God is in our lives.  When you see ALS in action, it's hard to believe God has anything to do with it.  During this same time period, my Mom went to the Emergency Room.  She thought she was having a heart attack.  She had a complete cardiac work-up and the results were clear.  She was a paralyzed woman of 21 years, and she had no signs of heart disease.  She chalked it up to a miracle.  Normally, I wouldn't hesitate to celebrate this miracle with her.  But, in the back of my mind, I was thinking of my friend suffering under the slow progression of his disease and wondering if, maybe, some things just are.

Kate Braestrup, a Universalist Unitarian chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, points out in Here If You Need Me, that we must be careful about calling things miracles simply because things line up in the right place at the right time.  Horrific things happen for the same reason.  A particular girl - in a specific parking lot - at a given time, which is precisely the same time and place a predator has made himself available to her... 

For me, the case for some coincidence is gaining strength.  I have always believed that God is a very involved God.  If something happened, it was because God orchestrated it Himself, as the primary agent.  I still believe this to be the case most of the time.  But, for the first time, I am leaving room for God to work through "coincidence" - things allowed by Him, under the umbrella of His knowledge/providence, but maybe not arranged by Him per se.  This feels weird and dangerous at first, but after sitting with it for a while, it grows more comfortable.  He is still God.  He is still Good.  He still loves us and desires our love in return.  Nothing has really changed, except that I'm giving Him more room to work.

In an effort to get to a place where I can establish and articulate my belief about all of this, I have been reading books like Handbook of Catholic Apologetics (HCA) by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli and Summa Theologiae - A Concise Translation by St. Thomas Aquinas, edited by Timothy McDermott.

"Believing, Augustine says, is giving assent to something one is still thinking about...Believing means putting faith in something, and this resembles knowing in giving firm assent, but resembles doubting, suspecting and holding opinions in having no finished vision of the truth." (Summa)  That is where I am...having no finished vision of the truth.

Last night, after months of contemplating coincidence and an all-powerful God, my guys and I watched Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and Life at the Molecular Level on Netflix.  We learned that we are in the last minute of the last day of the cosmic calendar year.  We watched a theoretical  single-celled organism change into a theoretical human being in the span of a minute.  We listened to an explanation of why we don't have to believe in an "Intelligent Designer" and can still benefit from the most intricate of all designs - the human eye.  We learned that the red spot of Jupiter is a giant hurricane three times the size of earth, and watched our planet disappear into our solar system and our solar system into the next thing beyond it, and on and on into the observable universe, which may really be a multiverse...

My middle son summed it up well when it was all over.  "Now, I'm going to be confused every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to bed, for the rest of my life."  Me too, buddy.  

St. Thomas More said, “God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind.” 
I'm farther away from knowing anything, except that I don't believe the human eye is the work of evolution any more than I believe we evolved from apes.  I could be more easily convinced if we didn't live alongside them.  If evolution is defined as small genetic mutations that happen randomly all of the time, I believe in it.  I just don't believe everything is a product of it.  St. Augustine  said, "If at any time the ruling power of God were to desert what he created, His creation would immediately lose its form and all nature would collapse."  This is probably all I need to know about science.    

I don't know how anything of the world came to be or how it continues to be, except that I know Who is responsible for it.  I am growing dimmer on the details, but more confident in the One Who Knows.  I am less certain that every single happening in life is intended by God, but know that all of the good is, for "Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above..." (James 1:17)  For those things which lack any apparent good, may God increase our faith to proclaim as written in Romans 8:28:  "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose."

Dear God of Beetles and the Universe,

Sometimes, I feel so dumb.  I think of my little town as big because it's the biggest one I've ever lived in, or my state as big because it's the biggest one in the continental United States, or my country as big because I've driven across a good bit of it and it takes a "long" time.  But then, I watch a show which stretches some approximation of reality before me, and my entire world and universe shrink down to specs, indistinct among many others greater in size and number, and there are places so far away that light hasn't been able to travel the distance between here and there...yet.

But, You aren't surprised by my embarrassingly small perception of big.  You created me and all the rest, right down to the beetles.  Over 350,000 of them, really?  Sometimes, You raise us up to catch a  glimpse of the heavens, but You bend down a lot, too.

You said in Jeremiah 29:11-13, "For I know the plans I have for you...plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart."

Lord, I believe You in this.  I don't know a lot of things.  In fact, it seems like the more I seek You, the less I know.  But, I do believe You want my good and the good of all Your creation.  Please give me the grace to be more content with "Because I said so" and less determined to ask, "But, why?!" 

Although I understand what can be understood of the spiritual riches that suffering holds; For now, I don't believe that the many diseases men suffer from are directly from Your hand.  For now, I believe this is one of the areas where things just are.  And for now, I am okay with not understanding it and trust that You will continue to bring good until I do.   

Thank you for this beautiful and untamed world we live in.  I'm sorry for all of the times and ways I make you too small.  Amen.