Chance Events: Luck, Molecules or God

My bunch of keys sometimes get quite tangled. Maybe you have a set that does the same. The other day they got into such a tangle that it seemed like the only way to sort them out was to take the whole bunch apart. I didn’t have time just then so I put them in my coat pocket to sort another time.

The next day I reached into my pocket, pulled out the bunch of keys and you guessed it, they were completely untangled. I was so stunned by it – they were really tangled – that it got me thinking how this could be. Did the molecules of that bunch of keys just happen to perfectly align as they were before – untangled? I have absolutely no idea.

Was it luck then? Some would call it that. It certainly saved me some time, frustration and maybe a broken nail or two. To some, that explanation makes perfect sense. Not luck you say, that’s just how it is. We simply live in an uncaring impersonal world and my bunch of keys just untangled themselves. Who cares about your keys! But think for a moment and apply the same principle to a cancer diagnosis. It’s still an impersonal uncaring world and the molecules just happened to align into a death sentence or months of treatment. Suddenly it matters. Or what if the molecules uncaringly aligned in the shape of a car and ran you over. Suddenly it’s personal and your impersonal uncaring world is important. The way you see the world changed. It’s personal and it matters.

It’s funny and ‘hip’ (perhaps as a student) to have a poster that says ‘Shit Happens’ Except no one lives like that. Not really. Posters like that are a distraction at best and at worst a terrible lie.  But your attitude to something simple like an untangled set of keys or similar ‘unimportant’ event will speak volumes. One of my sociology lecturers would say, and did say when I briefly discussed ‘meaning’ with him – ‘but what if it doesn’t matter and there is no meaning’. Which is what he seemed to think. Well, what if it doesn’t matter. It’s ok (it isn’t really) to think like that in an academic high tower: but if I had randomly decided to smash his kneecap with a hammer I’m guessing that would matter an awful lot! If nothing else, the pain would communicate meaning.

But instead of it being luck, or a random favourable – or unfavourable – alignment of molecules; what if it were an intervention of God. What we call a Providence of God – good and bad. If we put it down to God that introduces meaning and purpose into even the most unimportant things like my set of keys. It changes everything. No ‘random’ lining up of molecules here.

Just to be clear I am uninterested in suggesting some random deity to hang every occurrence on, good or bad, but rather the Christian God, the God of The Bible, The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Years ago a man I used to work with said ‘The trouble with you Christians is that if anything good happens you put it down to God but if anything bad happens you conveniently blame the devil’. As if God needs excusing. That may be a popular misconception and if it is it could be our fault as Christians for miscommunicating. But I had to explain that both good and bad come from God. In fact, if you’re familiar with the book of Job you might recall the following exchange;

Job 2:9  Then his (Job’s) wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”
Job 2:10  But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job’s wife foolishly urges him to curse God because of the disaster that had happened. And let’s not call it something it isn’t. When things like this happen it is disastrous. Plastic Christian smiles will do no good in the face of tragedy. We need something substantial. I have observed, as you must have, that wishing someone ‘Good luck’ or ‘All the best’ or even ‘We’re thinking of you’ just doesn’t cut it. It’s good that people wish us well and it may lift our spirits momentarily. And, it might be you will breeze through life without a care in the world and tragedy and heartache will pass you by. It happens. But eventually, there is a God to face. You know this. Which is why I’m linking to a message that lays out the Gospel of Christ briefly but simply and truthfully. Follow this link to a message ‘Why I am a Christian’ by James White.


Since starting this article I bought a copy of Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centred Approach to Probability and Random Events by Vern Poythress. I’m not a mathematician, and there’s a lot of maths in the book! But there’s enough theology and plain sense for me to understand what I’ve read so far. The book is available free as an e-book here.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book introduction:

THE ISSUE OF CHANCE
[He described an incident where his family escaped from a serious ‘accident’]

What do we say about this incident? Some people would say we were “lucky.” We escaped “by chance.” It just happened to be the case that the oncoming cars found room to our left and to our right. Or was it the hand of God’s providence? We felt afterwards as if an angel had pushed the cars to this side and to that. God had sent an angel to protect us. But we did not actually see an angel. Nor did we see a hand reaching down from heaven to move the cars. Was it just our imagination? Was our escape a “miracle,” or was it just an “accidental” result of driver reactions and physical processes?

We escaped. But not everyone does. For every story of a narrow escape, someone else can tell a distressing story of not escaping. Someone tells of being in a horrible auto accident, nearly dying from the injuries, losing an arm or a leg, and spending months recovering. And the accident could have been avoided, if only the oncoming car had swerved a little earlier or a little later. Was the accident “by chance”? Was God in control? If I am ready to acknowledge God’s control when my family escapes an accident, should I also acknowledge that God is in control when someone else suffers from an unpredictable tragedy? Or do tragic cases involve pure chance, beyond God’s control? And if God is in control, did he actually plan the events beforehand, or did he just react to the unfolding events at the last moment?

Big accidents and near accidents have drama to them. But what about the small things? Yesterday I could not find my checkbook. Today I found it in a pocket of my briefcase where it did not belong. Accidentally, it must have fallen into the wrong pocket when I dropped it into my partially opened briefcase. It got misplaced “by chance,” someone might say.

What about totally unpredictable events, like the flip of a coin or the roll of dice? Every time we flip a coin, the result is unpredictable. It comes up heads or tails “by chance.” What do we mean by the word chance? What is it?

 

‘Grieving: Your path back to Peace’ by James R. White – A Recommendation

IMG_0594I had the book ‘Grieving’ by James White for a few months but didn’t read it. No idea why but I decided to start reading it on the Sunday (22/11/2015). I finished it on Monday morning, the day Sue died.

Why this book? The reason for buying this particular book is twofold. I knew from listening to The Dividing Line that Dr White had been a Hospital Chaplin so I figured he would know what he’s talking about. I didn’t realise he had been a grief counsellor until I started reading but it made perfect sense. The other reason was that I didn’t want to read a book and be either disagreeing with the author or wonder quite what perspective they were coming from. I knew his theology and was prepared to learn. In my grieving I didn’t want the additional grief of reading bad or soppy theology.

As I read the book my reasons were justified. It is an excellent little book. And that’s a plus – it’s a little book. I didn’t want to read some massive tome on grieving. Nevertheless, unlike the previous reviews it is a book that is laid out well and the type is easy to read. By the time I write this review I will have read it again. As pointed out in the book – and I knew this would be the case – while Sue was alive the grieving couldn’t truly start. There’s a massive difference! And nothing prepares you for it. I am now truly on the grieving pathway and it isn’t pleasant!

Contents

  1. Autumn’s Grandpa Mike
  2. Am I The Only One That Feels This Way?
  3. The Patterns of Grief
  4. The Work of Grieving
  5. Avoiding the Pitfalls
  6. The Tough Questions
  7. Getting Through

The chapters are short and straight to the point. There’s very little verbiage, if any (Unlike my writing). He offers advice on practical issues like dealing with the clothes and not creating a shrine for your loved one. There is definitely a pull to do exactly that! So, it was helpful to flag that up. He doesn’t dodge the issue of the Sovereignty of God – this is the will of God. After reading it for the first time it was obvious – to me anyway – that I will need to come back to it or sections of it as I work through the grief over and over again. I don’t believe the book will be anywhere near as helpful unless I continue my habit of regularly reading The Scriptures. The book is written primarily for the Christian even though as Dr White points out much of the grieving process is common to humanity as we are all made in the image of God.

It has actually been a few weeks now since Sue died and even though I wasn’t at the time of the first reading on the grieving pathway I have refered to the book several times. I’m actually glad I read it just before Sue died. Dr White, as far as I know, hasn’t gone down the path I am on, but he really does understand and it comes through in the writing.

I would like to thank Dr White for this book. I am glad to have read it and found it extremely helpful both spiritually and practically. It isn’t a panacea, and it isn’t meant to be, but it is honest and makes no unrealistic promises that all will soon be well because they probably won’t be. I would say out of the three, so far, get this one first. I don’t know if it would have helped to have read it much sooner, maybe weeks or even months before Sue died, but I do believe Pastors / Ministers / Elders should read it and have copies readily to hand.

The book is available in The US & The UK

 

‘Christians Grieve Too’ by Donald Howard – A Review

ChristiansGrieveToo‘Christians Grieve Too’ by Donald Howard is the second booklet I am briefly reviewing. It’s published by Banner of Truth and is also available at the usual outlets. The booklet came out of the authors own grief two years after his wife died of cancer. Knowing that helps. This author has been there.

The title, I think, says a lot. The scripture says we grieve not as the world. It doesn’t say we don’t grieve.

It is a 32 page booklet. It is short. We like short. We like easy to read as well. I have found my mind is affected by grief. I can’t concentrate as well, I can’t remember so well and have trouble sifting things through in my mind. Yes, we like easy to read.

The chapters are:

Preface
The Reality of Grief
The Experience of Grief
Complications of Grief
The Relief of Grief
Hope in our Grief
Our Blessed Hope

I included the preface because what is said there, thought very brief, is important. He quotes C S Lewis saying he and his wife were prepared for death but not for grief. This was also the experience of Donald Howard. It’s my experience as well. I was not, and I am still not prepared perhaps as I should have been for just how devastating grief is.

The overall impression is what it says on the tin. Christians Grieve Too. The booklet expounds this idea. I found it helpful.

I said at the start ‘This author has been there’. And this is very clearly stated in the ‘Reality of Grief’ and ‘The Experience of Grief’. The other two authors have not. That alone doesn’t make it any better to read. But to me, it is relevant. It helps to know the author understands.

We grieve then, but we don’t grieve as others because we have hope. It is a ‘blessed hope’. This hope is only found in Jesus Christ.

As a small booklet it could be given out to Church members so they have at least some idea of what the bereaved person is going through. Whether it is your present experience or not, I would still recommend reading it.

‘Thank You King James’ the Story of Robert Hicks – A Review

IMG_0579‘Thank You King James’ is the story of Robert Hicks. Never heard of him? Neither had I. Robert Hicks is a businessman who started his working life in a local grocers shop: eventually working for Tesco and the Co-Op before entering the world of Christian publishing.

It is a true ‘Rags to Riches’ story. The writing is easy to read and is a mixture of narrative by James Hastings (I assume) and accounts from Robert himself. The first section is a harrowing account of abuse and deprivation on an almost unbelievable scale. That any adult, never mind the parents, could treat their children in such an abominable way is quite simply horrific. He was labelled as ‘retarded’ at school because of a speech impediment that only required a simple operation to cure. An operation that didn’t take place until he was fifteen. And yet Robert was an intelligent boy with a gift for mathematics. A gift his teachers were mostly ignorant of. He was also gifted in business and went on to have a very successful career.

But God was dealing with him from an early age and by the grace of God he became a Christian. A remarkable story. He says,

‘I had never considered myself a sinner, rather someone who had been sinned against…. I raised my head and called upon Jesus to come into my life, to forgive me for what I had done wrong, and I accepted him as my Saviour. There on the cold dirty floor of No. 335 Stonehouse Lane, the place which for so long as a child had been a living hell, I became a child of heaven. (p. 75)’

The book was worth reading for that alone. Instead of blaming everyone else he realised that he too before God was a sinner in need of a Saviour. It doesn’t matter who we are or what our background is, we all need The Saviour – He is Christ the Lord. I thought it was powerful.

What I wasn’t expecting in the book was the illness and death of his wife through cancer. A very similar situation to my own.  His account shows how different we all are when it comes to grief.

Not everyone will agree with how he used his marketing skills in the Church and the not discussed underlying theology. But what does come through is his devotion to Christ and his Gospel commitment, particularly his passion to get the Word of God out to the people.

I was loaned the book, but was very glad to have read it. I recommend it. It’s a DayOne publication.

 

Diary of a Grieving Christian – 3 (A visit to the Funeral Directors)

I woke this morning about 5:30 with a great feeling of peace. So much so that it shocked me. I wondered if I had woken up. I wondered if it was right to feel like this. As I lay there thinking of Sue the tears came. The peace didn’t last and I eventually got up about 7:30. But I believe The Lord gave me a foretaste of His Peace this morning. He is The Prince of Peace.

But it has been another tough day. Today I went to the Funeral Directors to finalise the details of the Funeral. [7th December @ 2.00 for the burial and then @ 3.30 Lower Ford Street Baptist Church, Coventry for the Service] I’m so glad Chris (our eldest son) came with me. Chris chose the coffin and was on hand to ask questions. I wonder how I would have coped on my own. There were tears. The need to cry just comes over me with no warning at the slightest little thing or even over nothing at all. I took some clothes for her to wear (ironed by her best and closest friend Ruth) and then we were given the option of going to see her before the burial. No decision has been made.

We did so much together and went through her illness (Cancer) together that I just want her with me now to go through this together. It’s not that there is any guilt or regrets but I just want her with me. We just liked being together. We really liked being with each other. I count that as the good hand of The Lord with us to bless. God is Good.

Diary of a Grieving Christian – 2 (Someone Died Last night)

I’ve been challenged (in my own mind) about how I’m going to do these. I will have to be honest about how I feel, otherwise they will be of no use. I’ll also need to discuss at some point along the way about how things feel and about how they actually are. So there’s going to be some theology along the way too.

The other thing is, I’m not sure how many or how often I will do these but following is a post I started some while ago when someone died in the next room. This has present relevance as you will see from my comment at the end.

Someone died last evening and I have to say it was quite distressing. Sue has been at the Hospice since Monday but is hoping to leave today (Thursday 2/4/15) and I will pick her up straight after work. We are just talking together when all off a sudden there was a lot of nurses running in the corridor followed shortly by a terrible sound of wailing and crying. It was distressing for Sue because she didn’t want us to be like that. I said ‘its right and normal to be upset but we don’t grieve as others that have no hope’. I got the sense that the death in the next room was a hopeless one. I may be wrong but that grief was a hopeless grief. In fact, I said ‘that is the sound of despair’. Sue was again reminded of her death. I then read Mr Spurgeon for that evening – a gospel message. I then prayed with Sue and Lydia. We hugged. All the while the sound of crying and loud wailing was coming from the corridor and the room next door. It was about 8.00. PM. Sue wants to die at home. And I want to make it happen for her. I am sad when I think she will not be with me. We planned on getting old together. The Lord has another plan. I haven’t cried in a while, but I will. Sue said ‘I want to die at home in the presence of God’. I’d like to think the lady that died did that – but I don’t think so.

That was a post that was never posted, until now. But as I read it now…. Sue did die at home in the presence of God. And it was a death FULL of Hope. We watched her take her very last breath in this life and she was gone. I then stood at the end of the bed with my daughter and said ‘remember the lady and her family at the hospice, this isn’t like that at all’. We wept. But we wept in hope. [I’ll have to do a brief post on Hope because what the Bible means by Hope isn’t what the world means: there is quite literally a world of difference.] You can see how relevant the post is now – as I can. We thank God for His Grace.

Diary of a Grieving Christian – Introduction

Copy of 2012-03-31 11.59.26Susan Margaret Iliff 25/11/1955 – 23/11/2015. Forever with The Lord.

The love of my life, Sue, died yesterday at 1:30 in the afternoon. That is to starkly state the cold hard fact. Another fact however, is that Sue has gone to be with her Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ.

We were married for 32 years. We were best friends as well as husband and wife. We did everything together and pretty much went everywhere together. Even if I were nipping to the shops, she would say ‘hang on I’ll put my shoes (sometimes slippers) on and I’ll come with you’. That’s how it was. We loved each other deeply. What a blessed marriage we had. A true gift from God. Sue was the most wonderful person and a Godly wife.

I’m going to write about the process of my grief and other things I’ve learnt along the way. I’m doing it for two reasons. 1. It will be cathartic and a record. So it’s for me, to help me get through this horrible time. 2. I pray it will be of some benefit to others that might be going through a similar time. So it’s for others.

I’m not sure how far back I’ll go just yet, but I have made a few odd notes along the way since we were told the terminal diagnosis. I’ll leave it there for now.

Grief might do weird things to me. So if all the posts suddenly disappear I hope you will understand.

Psalm 23 – The Lord is My Shepherd

Psalm 23 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my (A)shepherd; I shall not (B)want.
    He makes me lie down in green (C)pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
    He (D)restores my soul.
He (E)leads me in (F)paths of righteousness[b]
    for his (G)name’s sake.

Even though I (H)walk through the valley of (I)the shadow of death,[c]
    I will (J)fear no evil,
for (K)you are with me;
    your (L)rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You (M)prepare a table before me
    in (N)the presence of my enemies;
you (O)anoint my head with oil;
    my (P)cup overflows.
Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e] shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall (Q)dwell[f] in the house of the Lord
    (R)forever.[g]

Footnotes:

  1. Psalm 23:2 Hebrew beside waters of rest
  2. Psalm 23:3 Or in right paths
  3. Psalm 23:4 Or the valley of deep darkness
  4. Psalm 23:6 Or Only
  5. Psalm 23:6 Or steadfast love
  6. Psalm 23:6 Or shall return to dwell
  7. Psalm 23:6 Hebrew for length of days
English Standard Version (ESV)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Source: Bible Gateway.