From the Pulpit: Considering the astonishing reality of synchronicity

Guest Column by Joel C. Gregory

The most demanding speaking engagement of my ministry loomed just ahead. In a friend’s library, I randomly pulled a 19th century book off the shelf. It fell open in my hands to an astonishingly perfect story that gave the title and memorable image of the most consequential sermon I have ever preached. A book chosen randomly in a strange library actually fell open to that perfect story.

A flight to Newark arrived hours late because of frigid weather, landing after midnight. I asked a cab driver to take me to the closest hotel. I got the last room. In the grill I wolfed down a bowl of soup. From the darkness in a remote corner of the grill came a cry: “Dr. Gregory. I just finished your book.” I did not know anyone in Newark and had never spoken there. And a lifelong friendship began.

Walking besides the Trinity River in Fort Worth I listened to a recording of Pilgrim’s Progress. At a certain moment alone on the walk I said out loud to no one in particular, “I wish I knew where that passage was in the printed book.” Back home an hour later I prepared for bed. Without thinking I picked up a book thoughtlessly from the 1,000 books in my home library. It fell open to the very passage in Pilgrim’s Progress that I had wished to find. Such a thing frightened me. I fell back into a chair to consider the incredible odds of that event happening at all.

In a ranch house I brought a Christian witness to a seeker after Christ on a Saturday afternoon. The following Monday I was in the Charlotte airport with a tight connection. I went through security and the man just behind me was that man, the very man to whom I had borne witness two days before and five states away. There we were a half-country away at the same place and time. What was more, he was on the same flight going back to DFW. He came to faith in Christ the next Sunday.

What do you make of these kinds of moments? Karl Jung, along with Freud, a founder of psychoanalysis, invented a name for these moments — synchronicity. In his last work, he defined the term. Synchronicity points to random events in your life that have no causal connection, yet those events come together meaningfully. You have had that experience. At just the right time, just the right person shows up with just the right word for the occasion. You are astonished at what seems to be a random occurrence that has such meaning for you in that moment.

Jung had the quirky theory that such moments happen because all human minds are connected by mysterious links. I believe these rare moments happen because God is God. He is a God of divine prearrangements who can astonish you in the moment of their occurrence. A beginning chess player can think only three moves ahead. A chess master can think 30 moves ahead all the way to checkmate. How many moves ahead can God think? In the original Star Trek Captain Kirk and Spock played chess on an amazingly complicated three-level board. That is, they played vertically and horizontally. God can and does play the intricate match of life on more levels that we can imagine. He can arrange a meeting here, a book there, the snatch of a conversation overheard and a family heirloom suddenly discovered in such a way all come together with deep significance.

Our sermons this week consider the astonishing reality of synchronicity. For that reason I have named the series “It’s About Time.” We shall consider the life of the biblical patriarch Joseph, an icon of divine prearrangements. From being sold to slave traders by jealous brothers to becoming the COO of Egypt he is the embodiment of divine timing. Psalm 46 underscores the timing of God’s help at just the right time. Philippians 1 recounts Paul’s extraordinary use of time during his imprisonment. The biography of Abraham demonstrates a long waiting in time for God’s right moment. In each instance it’s about time. I want us to explore together the remarkable providence of God’s timing in our lives. This can give you a new poise and resilience in the face of challenges.

The Lord Jesus lived with the sense of the Father’s timing. How many times did He say in mysterious circumstances, “My hour has not yet come?” Finally, however, He announced that His hour had come. By some imperceptible sense of divine timing Jesus knew when His hour had finally come. By opening our lives to His influence we too can claim God’s hour for our own lives. It’s about time.

The New Testament uses two words for time. One is chronos and the other is kairos. Chronos notes clock time, the mere passing of minutes and hours. The repetitious tedium of it finds expression in the words of T.S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

For I have known them all already, known them all:— Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

On the other hand, “kairos” refers to significant time, moments that are fraught with destiny. Kairos marks dates such as 9-11 or D-Day. Kairotic moments cut into memory and leave their carved significance.

This week we will consider that later kind of time, time weighted with significance. Sometimes God hangs the heaviest weights on the thinnest wires of a moment. May of Tec (1867-1953), the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II, was engaged to be married to Prince Albert Victor (1864-1892), the supposed future king of England. He died just before the wedding, A few months later she was married to his brother who became Edward V (1865-1936). She was almost married to one prince who never became king. She married his brother and became queen. Had she married Albert Victor there would be no Elizabeth II as we know her.

Now, we are not British royalty but the same mysteries pierce our own lives. We will explore divine prearrangements. It’s about time.