Every now and then, I use this blog to toss out an idea that is just beginning to bake in my head. This is one of those occasions. As if I need another project to work on.
For years, I have been fascinated by the theological issue of providence. It seems to me that life is full of experiences in which chance happenings or coincidences don’t seem to be so random.
Traditional Christian theology—especially in the Reformed tradition—attributes this to providence. God is sovereign and ultimately responsible for everything that happens in the world. Since God must have a plan, everything that happens in human (or cosmic) history does so in accordance with God’s will.
In my personal experience, this belief has been significantly challenged by premature deaths from cancer and the destruction of innocent lives on 9/11. For over a decade, these events—and more like them—have caused me to wonder how a loving and omnipotent God could allow such suffering to happen. I’m clearly not alone in raising such questions.
In a recent post on God, I admitted the following:
I am less and less convinced that God intercedes in human history in an interventionist way. Unless God is radically capricious or God’s ways are completely beyond human understanding, I cannot reconcile human suffering with the notion of a loving God that could prevent suffering but chooses not to do so. Whatever prayer means—and I certainly believe that prayer plays an important role in our spiritual lives—I do not think of prayer as a way to change the outcome of events in human history. I don’t think that prayer changes God’s mind or influences God’s actions. God and humanity intersect in some other way than this.
I just don’t think that providence—as traditionally conceived in Christian theology—is very meaningful to me anymore. I believe in God, but I don’t think I believe that God has planned out every moment of human or cosmological history and that we’re just living out the unfolding of that plan. As I’ve said, I’m not sure that God interacts in human history in an interventionist way at all.
Yet I experience things all that time that make me feel as if life is not random or mechanical. I hear from youth and adults all the time that a fundamental belief—or hope—shared by many is that things happen for a reason. Popular culture is full of works of fiction that explore the idea that we are all connected in some way that transcends any individual human life.
If not providence, what do you call that?
Following a hyperlink trail yesterday, I came across the Wikipedia article on Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity. I’ve used this word for quite a while, but I hadn’t really explored what Jung meant by it. From what I read in the article, synchronicity describes events that seem related in a meaningful way but are not causally related. In other words, the connections and coincidences we experience can be meaningful without needing to be determined by causality, divine or otherwise.
This seems like a fruitful avenue for exploring how our lives intersect with each other and a non-interventionist God. It seems to be in sync with my sense that God is experienced more than anything in the relationships and connections that bind us together, especially the mystery of love.
So, today I ordered Jung’s Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. I’m looking forward to exploring these ideas and how they might connect with my theological thinking about providence.
Do you have any experience with Jung? Have you thought about how his ideas might inform Christian theology?