We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Serendipitous Lord

Dictionary.com provides the following definitions of the word "serendipity": "an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident" and  "the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident."  For the origin and history of "serendipity, it states, "1754 (but rare before 20c.), coined by Horace Walpole (1717-92) in a letter to Mann (dated Jan. 28); he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale "The Three Princes of Serendip," whose heroes "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of." The name is from Serendip, an old name for Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka), from Arabic Sarandib, from Skt. Simhaladvipa "Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island." Serendipitous formed c.1950."  Some online browsing indicates that some scientists acknowledge that their discoveries can be at times the result of serendipity.  The idea seems to be related to the experience of having good luck, but there is more to it than that.  Serendipity merges luck with an ability to see something in chance or random events and experiences that others don't see.  It suggests an ability to make connections between things that don't seem to be connected.

While a brief foray into the wild world of the Web, didn't turn anything up, I assume that someone in the world of theology has made a connection between the idea of serendipity and the way God works in the world.  For me, the whole idea of God's involvement in human affairs has always been problematic.  For one thing, we inhabit the tiniest speck of a grain of sand in the immensity of the universe.  Why would God even be interested?  More to the point, within the limitations of our biological programming we do have a fair degree of freedom, and most Christian theologians agree that God "respects" our freedom.  If that is true, then God's ability to act is severely limited.  Still more to the point, it makes no sense whatsoever to blame God for the ugly, evil things that happen in life as do many faithful Christians.  If God was in Christ, then God doesn't work that way.

So, how does God work in our lives and in human history?  Just suppose for a moment that God the Holy Spirit has an unusually refined (divinely refined!) ability to work serendipitously.  The Arab Spring presents an interesting possibility.  After generations of suffering under oppressive misrule, a street vendor in Tunisia sets himself on fire to protest local injustice, and then the Spirit goes to work making connections and the result is the Arab Spring.  Only the Spirit could make the connection between a vendor and a regional revolution for justice and freedom.  I'm still working on this, but it does seem to me that the God who is Present in our lives lurks in places where most of us don't see the divine lurking, tugging at our hearts and minds, making connections that we don't make without inspiration (meaning the indwelling of the Spirit).