Romans 8.28: “We know that all things work together for God for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
As Christians, there are two places where we seek to understand God’s will. Firstly, we look to the Scriptures as a God-inspired testimonies to God’s will throughout history, with the faith and theological assumption that the God who spoke through Moses to Israel in Egypt, the God who came in the flesh in Jesus Christ is same today as He was then. However, if we believe that God is actively engaged in the world today as He has been throughout history, then there is a second place where see to understand God’s will: in the course of the events of our lives.
The problem with this second source, however, is that there is no clear manual for how to discern God’s activity in the world. We can look to the Bible to help us make sense of the events of our lives, but the Bible doesn’t come with a clear set of rules that says “this is how you apply the Scriptures to your life.” Even as we trust that the God of the Scriptures is the God of today, there is no readily discernible formula that tells us how to fit the events of our lives into the patterns of Scripture. Our faith in an invisible God is that God is faithful, loving, forgiving, merciful and not that God is known in any specific observation we find in the world. This is because the utter holiness of God precludes being able to understand God in the same way we observe and measure the world around us. As A.W. Tozer observes, “Our concepts of measurements embrace mountains and men, atoms and stars, gravity, energy, numbers, speed, but never God. We cannot speak of measure or amount or size or weight and at the same time be speaking of God, for these tell of degrees and there are not degrees in God.” Whether in formal measurement, observation and calculation or the intuitive, unconscious observations we are all capable of and do without being aware of it, the way we perceive and make sense of the events of our life is a fundamentally different way of knowing than understand and trusting God’s intentions and purposes. God consistent, loving purposes leads God to act to bring about specific, observable events, but God’s intentions are not reducible to those events. Now can we simply reverse engineer specific events to being from the hand of God simply because they look like things we believe God has done in the past.
Imagine an artist who paints. There is a certain characteristic and quality about the paintings that may be characteristic of the artist. However, at the same time, other artists may occasionally paint something similar at times that looks similar to what the first artist paints. Just because you have a painting that looks like what the first artist painted doesn’t mean it is authentically from the first artist. That means that any one painting may not be from the first artist but may have been manufactured by others. However, if someone wished to be skeptical about the first artist, they might conjecture that the possibility that some paintings that bear similar features to each other is explained to multiple other artists paintining in a similar fashion for some other reason and that there is no need to posit there is the first artist who explains the recurring styles and patterns throughout the various painting. Nevertheless, someone who believes in the first artist may respond that there is a convergence of multiple recurring patterns in the various paintings that can not be ascribed to multiple artists, even if occasionally artists may intentionally or unintetionally reproduce this style, but that when one surveys all the paintings that bear this specific style, the best conclusion is that there is one painter who is responsible for majority of the paintings that other painters then chose to imitate, for various reasons.
In the face of the possibility of many painters, what allows one to draw the conclusion that there is the first, original artist that the other painters are dependent upon? That there is a convergence across all the paintings of various features that are shared through many of the paintings. One similar pattern here or there doesn’t establish a single painter, but that there are are an array of common patterns that are reproduced again and again that leads to the simplest conclusion that there is one original, first artist.
The point here is this: we discern the will of God in our lives by convergence. Convergence is a bit different from a similar phenomenon known as coincidence and serendipity. Coincidence is what happens when an unexpected similarity emerges. Two people who arrive at a meeting to discover that they are wearing the same colors without planning to do so is a coincidence. Then, lets imagine these two people are a man and a woman and they believe this was a signal of fate that they were meant to fall in love and be together: they believe this coincidence is a sign of their being meant to be together, which we can call serendipity, where some random occurence leads to a happy outcome.
Convergence is a bit different, as convergence does not rely on a single coincidence here or there, but in convergence, a person surveys the whole and see a converging of patterns that is best explained due to the intentionality of some agent, such as God, another person, etc. For an example, imagine a woman writes a secret love letter to a man that doesn’t directly express her identity, nor does it even directly express the man’s identity. He finds tihs letter in a place that he regularly visits. Upon reading this love letter, the man see it is identified to a person named “Charlie,” but it is known that he is a fan of the silent film actor Charlie Chaplin. Then, he sees that this letter contains may descriptions of this “Charlie” that seem to match qualities that he has, such as a love for talking and walking and a penchant for being a bit unclean. It is almost as if this letter is written to “Charlie” is really directed towards him in an indirect way. There is a convergence that suggests it is about him.
On the other hand, he sees the letter is from “Lauren K,” who he does not immediately know. However, he has suspicions that a certain female has had an eye for him in the past who writes her name reguarly as “Paula C.” Furthermore, the letter talks about how “Charlie” and “Lauren” reguarly rove around together the woods and this man knows that Paula has a dog named Rover that she loves to go out walking with. There are multiple other similarities between “Lauren” and Paula.
At this point, there are two convergences: many things that seem to be descriptive of him and many things that seem to be descriptive of her. It isn’t certain that it is really about him and really from her, but it sure does look like it. However, he hasn’t seen Paula in a while and he doesn’t have her number to call and ask her about it. So, he comes up with a plan to wait and see if he will ever get an opportunity to see and talk to Paula and then ask her about it if the chance comes up. If Paula wrote the letter with the intention of him coming to know it is her and she really wants to be in relationship with him, then she would give him the opportunity to see and talk to her. When she does and admits it was from her and for him, the two convergences become cemented as being a communication from her to him.
In a similar way than, when we trust and understand that God is at work in our lives for our well-being, we can come to see there are multiple convergences: both convergene related to ourselves and converegene that corresponds to what we know about God. This is not some coincidence or a human-made serendipity, but it is the hand of God that crafts events for a person’s life with intentional love that bears distinguish marks of both God as the “author” and the person as the recipient. As Proverbs 20:24 says: “The steps of a young man are from the Lord,” and “the way of a young man with a girl” is too wonderful to be understood (Proverbs 30.18-19) because when it is pure and holy it is implicitly God directing even those steps.