If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that I tend to be delighted by words. My friend Thom is probably the only person I know even more delighted by them; Thom, you see, is a linguist. I remember when I first came to church I was confused by the fact that I would sit next to him and he’d be taking notes in a different language each week just to practice.
Last week we came to be having a conversation about the way that language shapes culture and he brought up a very interesting fact: There is no Hebrew word for coincidence. Sure, in modern Hewbrew you could use mikre or mazal, but neither mean exactly that, nor are they found in the Torah. Why have a word for a concept that isn’t only alien to your culture but simply does not exist?
In Hebrew culture they believed instead in, Hashgacha Pratis, Divine providence or personal intervention. It was the Jewish belief that while the whole world was subject to general intervention of God to sustain His creation, He paid special personal attention to the lives of the children of Israel because they were children of His promise; the only condition was that they recognised Him as sovereign.
We are the children of His promise by the fact that we believe in Him. It follows that, if Hashgacha Pratis is correct, it is part of the way life works for those in Christ. While the rest of creation may be at the mercy of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, we have someone acting on our behalf through it all.
This does not take us out of the world, but it does mean that we are no longer of it. Someone far more powerful than we could ever imagine has our back. He is active in the minutiae as much as in the major. The Psalmist David had a great view on this when he penned Psalm 139.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
I was thinking about this on Saturday when I made a find on the dusty shelves of a used book store. For years I have wanted an original Penguin copy of A Farewell To Arms; it was the first fiction book they ever published and the first book to carry the iconic orange and white cover design.
I have looked in used book stores around Europe, determined to one day own a copy. On Saturday, whiling away some time at a local book shop, I found a copy nestling away on a shelf; it cost a mere £1.50. I smiled at the thought that God Himself was smiling on me and in some minor way orchestrating a little moment of delight.
Me finding that book is really of no major significance. The world will not be a better place because I own it, I will not be more or less able to serve people because of it, and it isn’t a Christian book. Its sole purpose could seem to be nothing but vapor, a random coincidence, but then I think of that ancient concept of Hashgacha Pratis and wonder if it is not His doing?
In giving us those small moments of delight not only are we reminded of a God who likes to give good gifts to His children for no other reason than love, but we are also reminded of a God who remains faithful always to His promises; we’re reminded of the fact that He is always working things, both big and small, together for our good.