There Are No "Chance" Meetings

A young woman was contemplating marriage to a young man. He had not yet proposed, but they continued to discuss the prospect of matrimony. He had chosen pastoral ministry as his life’s vocation. She wisely discerned that marriage to a minister would constitute something other than a normal life. A level-headed woman by nature, she determined to weigh her future rationally, not permit romantic feelings to cloud wise judgment. She loved him very much; but this was her life, her future, and not a matter to decide incautiously.

She faced a frustrating dilemma. Due to the circumstances of her upbringing and her residency in a new community, she lacked sufficient counsel. She knew only one person to whom she could speak candidly about what it might mean to be married to a pastor. Her anxiety increased as the day of decision to accept or reject her boyfriend’s proposal drew near.

Growing desperate, she booked a cross-country flight to visit that one voice of trusted counsel. The visit proved beneficial, but not nearly as satisfying as she had hoped. As she prepared to fly home, she cast her cares upon the Lord in prayer. She needed counsel. God answers prayers. So in simple faith she asked the Lord to seat her next to a pastor’s wife on her upcoming flight—right next to a mature woman willing and able to render the counsel she needed. What were the chances? But what could it hurt to ask?

When the day arrived, she boarded the airplane, took her window seat, and waited anxiously. Moments later, a husband and his wife settled into the two available seats next to her. The woman now occupying the center seat beside the potential bride was my wife. (I got the aisle seat and missed much of the ensuing fun). So this inquiring young woman now sat beside a pastor’s wife with nearly two decades of experience, time to spare, and a gift for talking to strangers (the guy in the aisle seat, not so much).

The young woman introduced herself to my wife then graciously asked some rather pointed questions about our identity. When she learned that God had answered her prayer, she forthrightly unburdened her heart to my wife. The two talked about the life of a pastor’s wife for the duration of the long flight.

What do we make of such an event? I will concede it does nothing to prove the existence of God. Those convinced that God rules the universe with transcendent authority and attends the needs of his people with immanent care need no such proof. Indeed, they would find other evidences more compelling. On the other hand, those who dismiss the reality of God could effortlessly categorize this account as a chance meeting. Convinced the universe is the result of an innumerable series of random accidents of most fortuitous consequence, why draw any radical conclusions about the divine on the force of one more lucky strike?

While I reject the conclusion that our meeting proved God’s existence, I would also disagree with those who would declare it a miracle. Miracles are a breaking into the time-space-mass continuum of God’s power. This meeting was no such event. But was it pure chance? As one who believes in the reality of God and answered prayer, I interpret this meeting as a display of divine providence.

Theologian Millard Erikson describes God’s providential orchestration of all human events this way: “God knows all of the infinite possibilities. He chooses which of these he will actualize. And by meticulously selecting the very individuals he brings into existence, individuals who will respond to specific stimuli exactly as he intends, and by making sure these specific factors are present, he renders certain the free decisions and actions of those individuals” (Christian Theology, 358).

Entering a life of Christian ministry, planning a trip, booking a flight and selecting seats online months before, sitting six inches apart at 35,000 feet next to a woman we had never met, involved an innumerable array of human choices all freely made. And yet, these free choices unfolded under the watch-care of the God who declared to the prophet Isaiah: “‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand’” (14:24). “‘Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass’” (37:26). As the Apostle Paul put it, God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). And sometimes the counsel of his will involves answered prayer.

Working with this interpretive grid, there are no random events in this world. Rather, every moment of our lives is a divine appointment. Sometimes events put this reality on stark display, reminding us to stay alert, reminding us there is no such thing as a chance meeting.