Chance? Coincidence? Providence?

On the surface, life can appear to be a bewildering array of random events, leading us to believe that chance operates in the situations of our lives.

Is there more to life than meets the eye?

We can be brought up with a jolt when something major happens in our life or that of a relative or close friend.

Was it by chance that Aunt Mary was shopping in the High Street when a car ran out of control seriously injuring her and several others?
Was it chance that held me up in a traffic snarl that I missed a 3.30pm flight which crashed on take off killing everyone on board?
Equally, was it chance that each one of the passengers killed decided to catch that particular flight?

These are difficult questions to answer.

Yet we also know that life presents many strange, intriguing connections and striking coincidence where unconnected events, or people who are complete strangers to each other, show a connection or relationship which normally just should not happen. It is something which takes place far more often than statistically it should; so much so that more and more people are taking them more seriously than purely chance events, and subjecting them to careful scientific study.

What are we to make of these events? Do we just dismiss their strangeness out of hand and say that it is all just random chance with nothing more to it? Do they leave us wondering, with the thought that there are more things going on in life than we realise? Or do they indicate the evidence of a universal mind, causing and directing a chain of events to take place for some purpose which cannot be really understood? Whatever, it is undeniable that these things happen and that everyone has his or her own strange episodes to relate.

James Redfield's book The Celestine Prophecy has created considerable interest in the whole area of coincidence in life. The first Insight deals with the need to become consciously aware of the coincidences in our lives in order to sense and then discover that there is some other process operating behind the scenes. Yet, the concept that chance encounters having a deeper meaning is not new and many mystics and philosophers have addressed it. The "buzz" word for it in more modern times is synchronicity, a term coined by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, to explain the many mysterious phenomena which the scientific laws of causality can only ignore - a link between physical and psychic states which have the same or similar origin.

Causality is a valid law to describe the connection between a physical cause and a physical effect, but synchronicity describes the connection between a psychic and physical state or event. This is no criticism of the principle of causality, it merely goes beyond its boundaries into the more subtle but no less real world of mental energies . . . . . Whether we are prepared to recognise this is another matter!

It is very easy to pour cold water on synchronistic coincidences and to explain them away. The commonest type of coincidence is the "it's a small world" where two people who know each other happen to meet in a remote situation, perhaps when away on a holiday, or two strangers discover they both know a third person. A cynic could justifiably maintain that meetings between friends who share similar interests and lifestyle is highly probable and that if you put any two people together, the chances are that they will quickly find areas in common. So what?
But a good number of this type contain a further ingredient which is not so easily explained. .Many people have experienced a presentiment that they will shortly meet a certain person, or read a certain word, and it takes place. A common variety of this is the instance of picking up the phone on sudden impulse and ringing, only to be met with the startled reception, "Goodness, I was just on the point of ringing you!"

Normally when these types of coincidence occur we just accept them for what they seem to be; interesting and odd instances to tell one's friends.. Many of them arguably are quite trivial. Perhaps though, we can nip them too quickly in the bud, for there are many recorded examples of so-called coincidence which led to people being given help, assistance, and solutions they badly needed. We do not normally go looking for such events in our lives, and we could ask how many others we miss out on noticing?

Is it legitimate to seek something underlying these coincidental events, or is it simply reading into things something which in fact is not there?

Swedenborg’s spiritual teachings do provide a very helpful basis for trying to cultivate the habit of seeing links in the way life unfolds and presents things to us. This includes events such as those apparently chance happenings mentioned at the beginning of this leaflet as well as synchronistic events. Swedenborg makes it clear that what is often called fate, fortune or coincidence is actually under the influence of Divine Providence. Most religious people recognise that God does exercise an overall care and guiding role over creation. Yet Swedenborg goes very much further showing that the beneficent care of the Divine operates in absolutely every detail, even the most seemingly insignificant and trifling, of an individual's life. The focus of this divine activity is primarily related to our eternal welfare, not our material comforts. All the time we are being presented with opportunities geared to assisting our spiritual growth, although we are unaware of this happening. Of course it is very difficult for us to know fully what is significant and what isn't. We can never be quite sure what is of importance for our spiritual welfare and what isn't. But we should not assume that something isn't working on a spiritual level so it is useful to cultivate the habit of seeking links in the way life unfolds and presents things. An approach to life in the belief that nothing happens merely by chance and that all events in our lives, while not necessarily arranged by God, are completely and securely under the infinite love and wisdom of the Divine Providence can only bring peace of mind. We remain free to make our own interpretations of all the various events and happenings; and usually it is sometime afterwards that we can begin to make some sense of it all.

Life can be like continually looking at the reverse side of a tapestry - many loose ends, knots and unconnected threads. We need to have glimpses of the beautiful picture on the right side!

"All things, indeed, the least of all things, down to the minutest are directed by the Divine Providence, even as to the very steps . . . . there is nothing such as chance, and apparent accident or fortune is providence in the ultimate of order." Swedenborg

There are more things in heaven and earth than you and I ever dreamed of . . . .