Miracles and Coincidences

A few years ago, I was driving up to spend time with my new girlfriend (now wife). General Sherman and I  (my 1986 Volvo) were on the Garden State Parkway when I heard an unusual sound. It sounded like a small explosion in the engine. I would later find out that some of the spark plug wires had fried. This meant that Sherman was literally not running on all cylinders.

Two things happened at this point. First, my maximum speed dropped to 40 mph--I couldn't go any faster. Second, my fuel gauge suddenly had a visible descent. Now Sherman didn't have the best mileage. But after 120 miles, my once full tank had under a quarter left. And I had a grand total of $6 to make it home. An hour and half into the return trip, my gauge hit E.

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I thought about pulling over and calling for help, but it was late and no one I knew was nearby. Seconds passed to minutes, and minutes to an hour. And to my surprise, an hour was all it took. I made it home in one piece, though I can’t say the same for poor Sherman who had dropped several feet of exhaust pipe on the highway behind me. But I was home. And I can only describe the experience as a miracle.

A miracle could be defined as an event that breaks the laws of known physics. It is a divine intervention into the mundane affairs of finitude. People like miracles. We pray for them all the time. We pray for the healing of loved ones, the protection of friends from certain disaster, even for minutes to multiply so we’re not late for church. And it’s comforting to know that God has the power to manipulate the physical laws of this world for our benefit. But sometimes I wonder if we’re missing the point of miracles.

When General Sherman somehow managed to eek out another 45 miles on an empty tank getting no more than an estimated 4 mpg, I saw God at work in the situation. The same was true 2,000 years ago when the blind could see and the lame could walk by the words of a man named Jesus. He even said that if you didn't believe in him, believe because of the miracles (John14:11).

Miracles are evidence that God is at work in our lives. And we are all prone to long for more and more of that evidence. In a world where immaterial realities are subordinated to material ones, it’s hard not to want some validation of our religious experience. The trouble is, when we focus so much on evidence, we miss the more subtle ways that God works.

About a week ago, I escaped a deadly shooting on my route home by only 10 minutes. On that day, the train tracker had trains coming in 4 minutes and 16 minutes. The former makes the three-block hike to the station uncomfortable, but doable. And normally this would have been my preference. But I decided to take my time. What a coincidence, right?

Coincidences are different from miracles. People don’t like them. They’re enigmatic and capricious. And while we may notice them, we don’t tend to go looking for them. There’s no comfort in a coincidence. Unless, of course, God is behind it.

If God were behind coincidences, we might feel less inclined to seek out the more tangible expressions of his care. We might focus less on expecting his power to amaze us, and anticipate his love as it provides for us. We might even see God at work in everything we do, and we just might appreciate him more for it.