Meaning in Randomness

Many people believe that coincidences are random events. Because they are random events, so the reasoning goes, coincidences cannot have meaning.

Not true.

Coincidences come into our lives with two prominent and very different kinds of meaning—usefulness and cause/explanation. Just as we use smartphones without knowing how they work, we can use coincidences without a clear explanation of how they enter our lives.  Coincidences happen. We can decide to be ready to use them and later reflect on the why. And we may not be able to find the why even if the coincidence turns out to be useful.

You also can ignore a potentially useful coincidence as the following story illustrates.

On a quiet winter day in the woods along a creek, a hiker found himself in the midst of a coincidence.

The man had been walking along the trail by the creek. He had seen only four people on his two hour walk on the trail that day. He came to a crossing made of several large rocks that continued the trail on the other side. He had never used this crossing before. Coincidentally, just as he came to this place, a family of four—mother, father, and two daughters were beginning their crossing from the other side.

He had the opportunity to observe how they navigated the rocks because it was a bit tricky. But he was annoyed at having to wait so he looked down and did not observe how the family managed the problem. He  waited, looking down, until they had reached his side.

Then he began again. He came to one large, pointed, wet rock. He carefully hopped onto this narrow perch, balancing with one foot, afraid that he might slip.

Fortunately for him he did not. As he stepped off the point, his head hit something. When he reached the other side, he realized that his head had bumped into a tight cord strung between two trees. He could have used it to balance himself at that tricky pointed rock.

The coincidence offered advice to him. He could have noted how the father had helped the children manage that treacherous spot.  But instead he became absorbed in his own thoughts and missed the opportunity to learn how to navigate the hazardous, pointed rock.

Was the coincidence a Divine Gift he had failed to open?  Or was it a random event? Or something else? We don’t have a good explanation. We do know that the man was offered a coincidence, an opportunity to protect himself, and he ignored it.

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