Saturday, 7 February 2009

Special and Particular Providence?

Doth God really find parking places for Christians? I’ve always found this whole notion slightly questionable — I am disturbed by the thought of the creator of the rolling spheres sweating small stuff so that I can have what I want when I want it. And what about the obvious instances of God not Mr Fixit, experienced by most people most of the time?

However, two experiences in the past fortnight have got me, even me, wondering about what Victorian Evangelicals used to call particular providence.

Getting from London to Great Missenden on a Sunday involves an elaborate sequence of interlocking but uncoordinated wheels — train to Beaconsfield (8 miles from home), then an hour and a quarter’s wait for a bus to go 4 miles to Amersham, then a 45 minute wait for a train for the next 4 miles home — total journey time approx. 3 hours. So horrified was I at waiting for the bus in Beaconsfield, I scooped up four random members of the travelling public to share a taxi to Amersham. “Sorry, mate” said the Taxi man. “It’s an hour’s wait.” We were just trudging off up the ramp away from the station with luggage, looking for transport, when my colleague Tim Butlin, Vicar of Loudwater, randomly swept by, and generously offered free lifts for all four of us to Amersham. Said one commentator, “It’s good to know you lot still do the Good Samaritan.” Quite.

This weekend the car got stuck in a flurry of snow on a country lane in Kent, as Lucy and I went to help lead an Engaged Encounter Weekend, about 6 miles from the venue. It was not going anywhere, and we were contemplating disaster, when a van came up behind containing... one of the couples on the weekend. Four of us we were able to turn our vehicles round and head for safety. (hint: Having absolutely no traction, makes it conceivable to turn even a transit van sideways as though on a turntable!).

I don’t know the chances against such things happening. I am painfully aware that people with far weightier needs than mine are left fuming by the roadside. I have also experienced many thousand occasions when exactly the right person did not, in fact, materialise; but I confess to wondering whether such random acts of kindness are evidence that someone up there has, in fact, not got it in for me...


The Church Mouse said...

Good to see some late night blogging. Fascinating thoughts too. I imagine if God is to answer prayer by divine intervention without breaking all the rules he himself established for the order of the universe, this is exactly the kind of way he can work - through people.

Anonymous said...

interesting comments, sometimes I feel the same

David Hodgson said...

When I went out shopping/I said a little prayer:/‘Jesus, help me park the car/For you are everywhere’

as Wendy Cope said

mrspao said...

I have observed that people are so used to other people being self-centred that when I perform a random act of kindness (i.e. letting someone who only has a couple of items in front of me in a supermarket queue or giving someone 30p to get into a station loo when they are desperately hunting around for the right change) that they are so utterly surprised and don't know what to say. I'm really glad to hear about your experiences as there are still kind people out there. After all, we are called to love the world.

maggi said...

I'm glad these random acts of kindness happened, but sorry, Alan, we can't let you get away with it... attributing it to God is just bad theology (and yes, I know you know that really!!!) ;)

Great story though!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thank you, all, for some great reactions and deeper thoughts. David, on one level anything good enough for Wendy Cope has to be good enough for me!

I wouldn't like God to start breaking rules (like the sun coming up, E equalling MC squared, etc), but I'm less overwhelmed by the necessity of God being a maker and follower of iron laws than Archdeacon Paley was 200 years ago. I do see God in process, and accept that much of the world's life is seemingly trivial, but still in a sense held in his hand, along with the sparrows and little furry creatures (including the ones that get splatted on the road?) Vernon White wrote a book a few years ago called “The Fall of a Sparrow," I think, expoloring the philosophy of such stuff in far more intelligent terms, certainly than this!

Maggi. it's a fair cop, of course, and I think if people decide they are special because God somehow favours them over everyone else (Protestant ethic thing) their acts can turn very nasty very quickly. I like the thought, though, that God is somehow *in* everything; or at least everything is somehow open to be received as an act of God through others. I'm sure we're right to put ourseves in the way of being the answer to other people's prayers. There is a randomness about everything, which Jesus embtaced in taking flesh.

Why do the only things we recognise as acts of God have to be disasters? I am inspired daily by what Boris Johnson says (often silly man, like me, but brilliant journalist)? "There are no disasters. Only opportunities. Including opportunities for fresh disasters..."

JB said...

Dear Bishop Alan. I'm intrigued by the above.
What did Maggie mean by "bad theology"? (not being a theologian myself!)
I often wonder about prayer and the answers to prayer - When things go the way you prayed for, is this an answer to prayer or just a coincidence? People often talk about "God-incidences".
And when things don't go as you prayed for, we may explain it as God answering in a different way or not at the moment.
This has always struck me as rather unsatisfactory!
Are there limits on what we can ask for in prayer? How do we interpret answers to prayer?

Sorry, too many big questions and no quick answers I'm sure! but perhaps you could point me in the direction of some helpful reading?

Thank you for your excellent blog and I'd like to say how much I enjoy reading it.

Erp said...

But does it/she/he hold the Ichneumonidae in his/her/its hands?

I'm still try to figure out Christians of a more liberal bent theologically so I hope you don't mind me commenting at times.

Though I'm not consistent about it myself (far from it), I try to see a random act of kindness as a reminder to do some random acts of kindness in turn. We exist and so must make the best of opportunities to make life kinder for each other.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Keith Ward calls such time like intervention silly belief, but points out (rightly) that impersonal laws are recent understandings in science and quantum science is now more plural. Still, I'm sure he contradicts himself: to get to theism he has to deal in time based concepts.

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