Saturday, July 2, 2011

Coincidentally wondering about Divine Providence.

So on the way to Dunkin Donuts today I remembered a friend mentioning A Prayer for Owen Meany, with regard to Divine Providence, when I last saw her. I had also recently been thinking of that book in the same context. A divinely providential conversation about Divine Providence? Well. I don't know about that. I think this is a Tootsie Pop situation of "The world may never know."

Spoiler Alert: A Prayer for Owen Meany I admit that I don't remember the details of the book so well. Some of the following might be a little wrong, and I always thought that the whole virgin-birth-of-Owen-Meany thing was pretty messed up. But the book is a great example of Divine Providence because you see the God factors, for example, the small size and high-pitched voice which end up fitting perfectly into God's plan, and the things Owen feels driven to do, like learning how to swim so well. Then there are the gifts that Owen cultivated through his own free choice, like learning to speak Chinese. All of these factors come together in Owen's miraculous saving of the Chinese children which ends up costing his life.

Divine Providence is sometimes hard to wrap a Catholic head around since we're all suppose to have free will. How do we both have free will and participate in Divine Providence and fulfilling God's Will? This is the idea of the constantly working God who is always and everywhere. Obviously sometimes we do bad things and can imagine God tweaking future circumstances so that everything still works out. We can also imagine God tweaking circumstances around us to coax us into making a certain decision. The decision was still made freely but is in accordance with God's Will. Discernment is the practice of asking God's opinion and willfully trying to figure out which decisions are the best in His eyes. We can still then go and do something different, although perhaps we shouldn't. But often we're left to our own devices. Someone decides to study Chinese instead of Spanish. Who would think such a decision would play a role in Divine Providence? But the constantly working God might use the fact that he/she chose to take Chinese to fit this individual's piece into the perfect position in God's puzzle.

People say that this universe is so uniquely perfect for supporting life that there must be some sort of intelligent creator. I've read the counter argument that this world wasn't 'created' because there's really an infinite number of universes and we just happen to be in the one that supports life. Then there's the idea of alternate dimensions (like that tv show Sliders) where another Sarah is living a completely different life. Actually, an infinite number of Sarahs are living all of the possible combinations of lives. Well, in reality, God sees the infinite number of possible lives I could live. At every moment, the free choice I make narrows down the number of possible ways my life can play out. I guess infinity can't be narrowed down, but rather some options would be eliminated. Then the constantly working God tweaks the parameters he has control over, which includes everything but the human free will which is His irrevocable gift to humanity. At each particular instant in time, God works everything toward my eventual salvation. It's like a gigantic feedback loop where God provides the input parameters. He lets us do whatever we're going to do and then tweaks the next set of inputs in response to our actions. Very much like the PID controller in instrument electronics which provides a present input based on the past, present, and estimated future errors of the system.

To every other person who has ever lived, God has given His full attention and dedication to his/her salvation. Good thing there are an infinite number of possibilities because this is obviously an infinitely complex system beyond human understanding. The Christian's job is to keep trusting even when things don't seem to make sense and everything seems to be going wrong--even when there is so much injustice in the world that the only hope for some people is a Just Judge who works everything out on the timescale of eternity. If you believe that God is Love then it's like Thomas Merton says in the YouTube video Merton Renunciation contemplation 9 9 09, "Love is love. And you let it be love. That's all."

In our own lives we sometimes sense inklings of Divine Providence at work. The question is always, is a coincidence just a coincidence? I used to scoff at the insistence that there's no such thing as coincidence and still catch myself thinking "Get a grip!" when people describe some mundane thing ("Wow! We both wore red shirts today!") as evidence of Divine Providence. But sometimes something especially coincidental, like my trip to Mount Carmel, gives me pause. If I let myself, I just might find myself thinking, "It is the Lord."

The following as an awe inspiring story of one woman's experience of Divine Providence:

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