There are no accidents
In one of my favourite parts of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair, the two heroes, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole, have been sent to find the lost Crown Prince of Narnia. Aslan has told them to look for some words written on a stone in a ruined city. Eventually they find the words ‘under me’ and literally go under them to find an underground city where they encounter a mysterious knight. He mocks the idea that the words ‘under me’ had any special significance, declaring that they were left by accident from a longer inscription carved by a long dead king
‘Though under earth, and throneless now I be, yet, while I lived,
all earth was under me.’
However, Eustace and Jill’s Narnian guide Puddleglum responds by saying
‘Don’t you mind him…There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan; and he was there
when the giant King caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that
would come of them; including this.’
Puddleglum’s declaration that there are no accidents came to my mind this week in the light of the furore that has been caused by a UKIP councillor suggesting that the recent floods in this country were sent by God as a response to the Government’s legislation to allow same sex marriage. It seems to me that whatever you think about Mr Sylvester’s views on same sex marriage, if it is right to say that ‘there are no accidents’ it follows that he was right to at least ask the question about what was the deeper significance of the floods.
This of course raises the question of whether there are indeed no accidents. Most people today, if they think about the issue, would say that there are lots of things that are just accidents and that the recent floods come into this category. They were not intended by anybody for any purpose. They just were. However, orthodox Christian theology, which C S Lewis reflects through the words of Puddleglum, has insisted that there are no things in the created order that just are. Everything that exists, from human beings, to floods, to music videos, exists because God wills it to exist and for the purpose for which God wills it to exist.
As Article I of the Thirty Nine Articles tells us, Christian faith holds that God is ‘the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible.’ The fact that God is the preserver as well as the maker of all things means that he did not just set the world in motion at creation and leave it to run itself. Rather, he continues to uphold and control it in all its aspects. The Elizabethan Anglican theologian Alexander Nowell makes this point well in his Catechism.
‘M. Did God think it enough to have once created all things, and then to cast away all further care of things from thenceforth
S. I have already briefly touched this point. Whereas it is much more excellent to maintain and preserve things created, than to have once created them; we must certainly believe, that when he had so framed the world and all creatures, he from thenceforth hath preserved and yet preserveth them. For all things would run to ruin, and fall to nothing, unless by his virtue, and, as it were by his hand they were upholden. We also assuredly believe, that the whole order of nature and changes of things, which are falsely reputed the alterations of fortune, do hang all upon God: that God guideth the course of the heaven, upholdeth the earth, tempereth the seas, and ruleth this whole world, and that all things obey his divine power, and by his divine power all things are governed: that he is the author of fair weather and of tempest, of rain and of drought, of fruitfulness and of barrenness, of health and of sickness: that of all things that belong to the sustentation and preserving of our life, and which are desired either for necessary use or honest pleasure; finally, of all things that nature needeth, he hath ever given, and yet most largely giveth abundance and plenty with most liberal hand; to this end, verily, that we should so use them as becometh mindful and kind children.’
Nowell’s conviction that all things are sustained and governed by God reflects the teaching of Scripture which affirms God’s active universal government of all things explicitly in passages such as Job 38-39, Psalm 104, Psalm 147:8-9, Matthew 6:25-33 and Luke 12:4-7 and implicitly throughout the whole biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation, which tells the story of how everything that occurs from creation onwards takes place in order to fulfil God’s good purposes of bring all things in heaven and earth into unity in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).
This strong belief in God’s providence is often challenged today because it is seen to contradict what we know about the operation of the laws of nature and because it seems to leave no space for human freedom. However, the idea that the laws of nature rule out the action of God is foolish. What we call the laws of nature are simply the observed regularities through which God carries out his purposes. As David Broughton Knox writes, ‘God works through the laws of nature, His sovereignty is not in the slightest degree affected by them.’
Furthermore, the Bible affirms both that human beings make free decisions and also that these decisions fall within the scope of God’s providential purposes. A classic example of this is Genesis 50:20 where Joseph tells his brothers that their free decision to sell him to a band of Midianite slave traders fell within the purposes of God, ‘As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.’ The God who knows all things from the beginning is quite capable of including the free decisions of human beings in the working out of his plans.
Most of the time the precise reasons why God exercises his control over nature and human history in the way that he does are unknown to us. Thus I have no idea why God sent floods over much of Britain in the last few weeks and I am not sure anyone else knows either. However, what I am sure about, and what I think every Christian should be sure about, is that because ‘there are no accidents’ those floods had significance. They were sent by God for a good purpose, even though they were inconvenient to many, caused severe hardship to those whose properties were flooded and grief to those who knew people who died. We may not know what that purpose was, but we can be confident that there was a purpose. It is not the case that the floods ‘just were.’
The belief that ‘there are no accidents’ is a liberating belief. It liberates us from the belief that we are the subjects of blind fate, of forces that neither know not care what happens to us. Whatever happens to us, we are in the hands of God and those are hands of love. Knowing that we are in the hands of God does not necessarily ease the pain when bad things happen to us, but it does give us the confidence that the pain will not have the last word.
As St. Paul declared on the basis of his belief in divine providence ‘If God is for us, who is against us?… I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:31, 37-38).