We have said that our sense of the presence of God is born of our encounter with certain occurrences or situations which provide the paradigm for our approach to, and profounder understanding of, all other occurrences and situations; and we quoted Whitehead's saying that the intuitions of religion, ‘though derived primarily from special experiences, are yet of universal validity, to be applied by faith to the ordering of all experience’, so that ‘Rational religion appeals to the direct intuition of special occasions and to the elucidatory power of its concepts for all occasions.’1
Quite evidently there are many others who have encountered the very same occurrences as have been to us revelatory of the presence of God, but who have entirely failed to find in them any such deeper significance. Only a few of those who saw and heard all that transpired in Galilee and Jerusalem, only a few of those who witnessed our Lord's Crucifixion, were alive to the presence of God in these things. They were nothing to those who passed by. However cynical it may have been in intention, there is nothing extravagant in Anatole France's story of Pontius Pilate's meeting in his old age with a friend of his early days in Judaea, who asked him if he remembered a young man called Jesus, a native of Nazareth who was crucified for some crime or other, and of Pilate's knitting his brows for a few moments before replying, ‘Jesus? Jesus of Nazareth? No, I don't remember.’2
This means that all those occurrences which to the eye of faith reveal the divine presence are capable of being explained without apparent remainder in purely naturalistic terms. There is no difficulty about fitting them all into what is called the order of nature, for they belong to that order in the same sense as do all other occurrences. There is hardly another word in our current speech that is patient of so many different meanings as the word ‘nature’, or any phrase whose coverage varies so much as ‘the order of nature’; but when philosophical naturalism employs the phrase it is understood as relating to the corporeal world such as can be described in terms of the science of mechanics. Men of faith are accustomed to speak of revelatory occurrences as miracles, and so indeed they are if by miracles we mean mighty acts of God which call forth the admiratio of those who recognize them to be such. But the Bible never thinks of the ‘signs and wonders’ of which it has so much to say as ‘contravening the laws of nature’. The concepts, not only of the laws of nature, but of nature itself, are wholly absent from Biblical thought and could not indeed be expressed in the current language of the Biblical authors. The later Greek philosophers, some of whose terms were familiar to the New Testament writers, did certainly speak of the laws of nature, but only with reference to the moral order of the universe, and never with reference to the observed regularities in the behaviour of the corporeal world: they were laws in the proper sense of the word, legislative prescriptions that might as often be honoured in the breach as in the observance. The Hebrews were of course well aware of the regular sequences of things in their external environment, of day and night, seed-time and harvest, and the procession of the stars, but they regarded these, not as forming a self-sustaining system or as automatically or mechanically determined, but as gracious ordinances provided and sustained by God for the benefit of his creatures: their attitude being perfectly reflected in the saying of Thomas Chalmers that ‘the uniformity of nature is but another name for the faithfulness of God’. Thus when unexampled events occur, they are referred to the same divine source as are more familiar happenings. They do not contravene anything; they are not interventions save in the sense in which all that comes to us from without is intervention. If they are supernatural, so also is the whole cosmic order supernatural. If the rest of the cosmic order is natural, so also are they natural. The office of those hitherto unexampled occurrences of which the Bible speaks as God's mighty acts is to reveal something of the purpose of God of which we had not previously been aware or else to startle us into obedient response to some part of his purpose already known but grievously disregarded—intimations which the more familiar round of things had failed to communicate. If we are to speak of miracles at all, then the essence of a miracle is that in it we are aware of being addressed by God. ‘A miraculous event’, writes Dr Farmer, ‘always enters into the religious man's experience as a revelation of God.… Unless an event has this quality in some degree to someone it is not, in the religious sense of the term, a miracle.’3
It is, moreover, true in fact that those who find no revelatory significance in what men of faith speak of as God's mighty acts do refuse to accept their miraculous nature. They have no difficulty in explaining all they have heard or read about them in purely naturalist terms. Some of it they have no difficulty in dismissing as merely legendary material. Even the reports we possess from the hands of the Evangelists and St Paul of our Lord's Resurrection are certainly not such as to induce conviction in minds that are blind to its divine significance. If on the other hand these accept the historicity of the so-called miracles of healing and the like, they find it easy to naturalize them by referring them to ‘laws of nature’ that are not yet fully understood—the influence of mental attitudes on bodily conditions, telepathy and what not else. And who shall say that they are not so far right, or that God did not indeed accomplish these more striking manifestations of his purpose, as he accomplishes the more familiar, through the agency of created things? Who shall say that even the most exalted final causes, as well as the humbler ones, are not served by the operation of efficient causes? Whatever happens in the phenomenal world becomes part of nature as soon as it happens, however far it carries us beyond what we had previously known about nature.
There is, then, a justified naturalism. In earlier chapters I have spoken much against what I called a reductive naturalism but was always careful to include the adjective. The contention of the reductive naturalists is that the naturalist account of our experience exhausts the whole meaning of it, that there are no final but only efficient causes, that there is no purpose in the disposition of things but only mechanical determination, that nothing is real but body. The truth is, however, that the corporeal is only one aspect of our experience, which can equally be viewed under quite a different aspect. It is an aspect of our experience, not a section of it. The other aspect, which in different contexts we speak of as mental, spiritual, valuational, teleological, etc., is not apprehended through the gaps of a naturalistic explanation, but by adopting a wholly different approach to the whole. For example, in a broadcast lecture about the two different accounts that may be given of ordinary human action Dr Donald Mackay, an authority on physics and cybernetics, suggested the following helpful, though admittedly imperfect, analogy:
What the scientist is trying to do is to give us as complete an account of human behaviour as possible, from the standpoint of an observer, using a language whose terms presuppose that standpoint. He does not deny for a moment the validity of an account, in quite different terms, presupposing the standpoint of the actor himself. But it would be simply a logical error to mix terms that presuppose one standpoint with terms that presuppose another, and he doesn't do it. To treat a description in the language of the observer as if it were a rival of a description in the language of an actor is rather as if someone who did not understand algebra were to try to ‘debunk’ a printed algebra problem by proving that there was ‘nothing but ink’ on the page. Of course he would be telling the truth. There is nothing but ink there. But the algebra problem is not a ghost inhabiting one of the ink-patches. He will never find it as something left over after making an inventory of all the ink on the page. He will find it only by a different approach to the very same data.4
The account given by natural science of organic nature is thus, as its name implies, quite as naturalistic as that which it gives of inorganic nature, but both will be saved from being reductively naturalist if they recognize the right and validity of another and complementary account.
But furthermore it is well known that physical science now recognizes the necessity of offering two complementary accounts of certain phenomena within its own purview, of which the most familiar are the two accounts offered of the nature of light as consisting of waves and as consisting of particles. It was to meet this situation that Professor Niels Bohr first formulated his principle of Complementarity, but he has since advocated an analogous extension of it to the explanation of the relation in which the whole mechanistic aspect of our experience stands to its mental or spiritual aspects, suggesting its application to the mind-brain problem and likewise to the problems of the relation of human freedom to divine grace and of physical causation to divine providence.5 It was by hinting at the possibilities thus opened that he concluded his Gifford Lectures in 1949, and I remember his saying to me at that time, ‘I think you theologians should make much more use than you are doing of the principle of Complementarity.’ But in fact not a few theologians had already been employing what is essentially the same principle, even if not quite under that name. This was notably true of Dr Karl Heim who in 1931 published the first volume6 of his work Die Evangelische Glaube und das Denken der Gegenwart, and there expounded his principle of dimensionality. The concept of dimension is of course most familiar to us in reference to the tri-dimensional character of our experience of space. Each of the three dimensions can be indefinitely extended without meeting a boundary; but if we suppose the existence of a being whose apprehension of the world was only bi-dimensional, who lived in what an imaginative writer has called Flatland, then nothing in his experience could possibly suggest to him the existence of a third dimension—that of depth. In something of the same way it is true that a being whose apprehension was limited to what can be perceived by the bodily senses would meet with nothing in his experience that could suggest to him the existence of a divine dimension of things. He would have to say as Laplace said to Napoleon, ‘Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis’, or with Kepler, ‘I searched the heavens with my telescope and found no God.’ Only to that mode of apprehension which is faith is the presence of God revealed. In the fifth volume of his work, published in 1951 under the title of The Transformation of the Scientific World-View,7 Dr Heim was now able to make full use of the concept of Complementarity under that name. The same is true of an interesting American book to which I shall presently be making fuller reference, Dr William G. Pollard's Chance and Providence.,8
We must, however, beware of speaking as if we had here to do with two different worlds each of which complements the other. What are complementary are two different attitudes to the one world which we familiarly know, two different modes of our apprehension of it, two different accounts that may be given of it. This is of course true of the complementarity of which natural science speaks—it does not speak of two kinds of light but of two complementary ways of regarding one and the same light; but it is also true of the wider fields of discourse to which, on the analogy of its use in natural science, we have been encouraged to apply the term. Faith can neither make over to science all interest in the external world nor deny to science all interest in the spiritual life of mankind. Not a little of what I believe about the world of nature I know only from the Christian revelation, and not a little of what I believe about the soul's response to God I have learned only from the scientific approach to it—through the application to our religious experience of the purely empirical, observational, inductive and even statistical methods on which science relies, and of which psycho-pathology is only one example.
I have contended that the two accounts do not contradict but rather complement one another, each being true in its own kind, but neither saying all that may truly be said. At the same time and on the other hand, it cannot be claimed that this happy relationship could be maintained between all the accounts that have ever been rendered in the name of faith and all those that have been rendered in the name of science. Many Christians in the past have understood their Christian commitment in such a way as to lead them to reject what seem the most assured results of physics and astronomy, or of biology and genetics. Perhaps even in our own day there were some who refused to believe that the earth was a sphere, and not the flat surface which the Biblical documents presuppose, until we were able to encircle it with a satellite of our own making! But no less have many scientists rendered such an account of the course of nature as could not possibly be squared with the Christian view of God's active presence in and control over his world. They have defended a rigidly determinist view of efficient causation which conceived every event in nature and human history throughout the whole course of time, past and future, as being predetermined by natural necessity, as that all that happens has to happen precisely as it does, there never being at any point open alternatives either one of which the course of things may follow. This would quite evidently mean that the whole later sequence of events, every turn taken by human history, and any no matter how trifling incident within it, were already latent in, and inflexibly predetermined by the earliest form of existent being, whether conceived as a vast gaseous nebula or as an active electrical field or as what you will. It will be remembered how Laplace contended that if what he called a Perfect Calculator could be made acquainted with (a) the exact state of things either at the first moment of time or at any given later moment, and (b) the immutable laws of nature, he could work out with complete certainty and in minutest detail the exact state of things either at any past or at any future moment of history. As lately as my own student days there were not a few who still preached that doctrine, and I think there are some even now. Such a doctrine clearly excludes the possibility of any divine control over, or providential guidance of, the historical sequence of events, while at the same time it as clearly excludes any freedom of action on man's part. At the best God could then be conceived as the original framer of the laws of nature and at the same time the original creator of the primeval nebula or electrical field or subatomic units of being, but as afterwards leaving things to look after themselves in his absence—or in his presence only as a spectator; and similarly man could at best be regarded as a being who had no power to modify, but was only passively conscious of, what was happening to him. Perhaps, indeed, there was an occasional theologian who was not too much disturbed by this result, finding it not very dissimilar to his own version of the Christian doctrine of predestination, which denied all liberty to the human will and conceived all that has happened or will happen in history as having been immutably ordained and planned by God ‘before the foundation of the world’.
Fortunately, however, it is a very different picture of things which the scientists are now presenting to us. A way of escape from the awkward corner into which the old classical mechanics seemed to be shepherding us has been provided by the advent of the new quantum mechanics. When Arthur Stanley Eddington delivered his Gifford Lectures in the University of Edinburgh in 1927 on The Nature of the Physical World, the account he gave of it was startlingly different from what had been offered to me in these same halls some fifteen or twenty years before, and when the lectures appeared in book form in 1928, the first chapter bore the title ‘The Downfall of Classical Physics’. We were now introduced to what he called the ‘random element’ in nature, it being explained that the observable uniformities represent only averages taken over vast numbers of instances, there being no evidence of a similar uniformity in the behaviour of the individual entities which contribute to that average. The familiar laws of nature are thus of a statistical kind and, like other statistics, yield no more than probable results. Our city registrar can present us with an uncannily accurate forecast of the number of citizens who will marry in the course of next year, but (a) each individual citizen believes himself quite free to marry or not as he chooses and we can discover no law of nature to indicate that his belief is illusory, and (b) the registrar's estimate of the gross number of marriages can never be more than approximate. Similarly, if we pour white sand into one section of a container and red sand into another and then, after removing the partition, shake the whole well together, we can count on soon obtaining a fairly equal distribution, it being highly unlikely that the original clear division will ever again be restored after no matter how many further shakings, while obviously the larger the amount of sand with which we are dealing, the more unlikely does this chance become. That means that even if the movements of the individual grains of sand are controlled by no uniform law of nature but are quite random, we can still count for most practical purposes on the uniformity of the result. Eddington indeed writes that ‘when numbers are large, chance is the best warrant of certainty’,9 yet on his own showing he should have written ‘probability’, not ‘certainty’. Of course when we are dealing, not with relatively macrocosmic entities like grains of sand, but with the microcosmic ultimate constituents of nature such as electrons, we have to do with such unimaginably vast numbers that the chance of the expected or predicted result being disappointed, though it cannot be theoretically excluded, is virtually zero.
When Eddington began the delivery of his lectures, there were still many physicists (and I understand there still remain a few) who were convinced that although no principle of uniformity has yet been discovered which regulates the behaviour of sub-atomic entities, such a principle does exist and may one day come to light. They had no empirical justification for such a conviction, but it was to them a matter of what might be called scientific faith. Yet in that same year of 1927, and before the last lecture was delivered, Heisenberg enunciated his celebrated ‘principle of indeterminacy’, the effect of which, if it were accepted as true, was to shatter that faith. It was at once so accepted by Eddington, and in one of the last of his lectures, as in his published volume, he states the gist of it in the brief formula: ‘A particle may have position or it may have velocity but it cannot in any exact sense have both.’10 That is to say, the more accurately we are able to determine the precise position of a particle, the less accurately can we determine its momentum; and if we could reduce the error in either computation to zero, the error in the other computation would be infinitely large. Thus the indeterminacy does not arise from our ignorance and lack of information, but is, in Eddington's words ‘a symbol for causal failure—an indeterminacy of behaviour which is part of the atom itself’;11 and just because the future behaviour of the microcosmic constituents of nature are thus unpredictable, not merely in practice but in theory, no more than probable predictions could conceivably be made of the future course of macroscopic nature. As Dr Pollard, who is both an Anglican priest and Executive Director of the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies, has written in his book already referred to:
Thus Laplace's demon, no matter how clever he might have been, could not even have begun his calculations. If we gave him the exact position of every particle in the universe at a given moment, neither he nor we could have any information at all about their velocities, and vice versa. The Heisenberg indeterminacy principle strikes at the very root of the determinism of classical mechanics and undermines its very foundations.12
Eddington in his lectures expressed this in the following way. It might seem, he said, that if we could accurately determine the successive positions of a particle in two successive moments, we could then accurately compute the velocity at which it was travelling.
This velocity, however, is of no use for prediction, because in making the second accurate determination of position we have rough-handled the particle so much that it is no longer the velocity we calculated. It is a purely retrospective velocity. The velocity does not exist in the present tense but in the future perfect; it never exists, it never will exist, but a time may come when it will have existed.… The velocity which we attribute to a particle now can be regarded as an anticipation of its future positions. To say that it is unknowable (except with a certain degree of inaccuracy) is to say that the future cannot be anticipated. Immediately the future is accomplished, the velocity becomes knowable.
The classical view that a particle has a definite (but not necessarily knowable) velocity now, amounts to disguising a piece of the unknown future as an unknowable element of the present. Classical physics foists a deterministic scheme on us by a trick; it smuggles the unknown future into the present, trusting that we shall not press an inquiry as to whether it has become any more knowable that way.13
The reason why, for my layman's account of the changed picture of the natural world which began to be offered us by the physicists so soon after my own student days, I have followed the argument of Eddington's lectures, in spite of a generation having passed since they were delivered, is that it was from these and from other books, of a semi-popular kind but written for our instruction by equally distinguished physicists, that I myself found escape from the determinism by which my student days were haunted. But of course I would not have so followed them, were it not that, so far as I can gather from more recent works of like authority, the parts of Eddington's argument on which I have relied would still find acceptance among the vast majority of his successors in the present generation who would, I think, agree that the future course of events is indeterminate. It is indeterminate until it has happened, when of course it will no longer be future but past. It is the past alone that is immutable, but occurrences that are now past were not immutable while they still lay in the future. They did not need to happen as they did, but we now know that they happened just so and not otherwise, and to a retrospective vision it may often be clear why they did so. We can often, with a reasonable degree of confidence, assign their causes, for the old principle that ‘every event has a cause’ still holds good in the realm of macrocosmic events—the world of gross reality and large numbers—however much the physicists may have to say about the non-caused character of the microcosmic field; but when these events still lay in the future there were alternative causes that might have produced different events in their stead. The choice between the alternatives—if I may for the moment speak of choice without insisting on giving it more than a metaphorical meaning—was an open one until it was made.
Needless to say, this new scientific conception of the physical universe offers no more positive evidence of the presence of God in the world or of his providential ordering of it than did the older one. What it does do is to leave more room for these things, if they can be established on other grounds. I found myself quite unable to escape from the sense of God's presence with me in mercy and judgement even in those days when I could see as little escape from the deterministic strait-jacket within which the scientists were then trying to constrict me, but I could not then conceive how the two could possibly be harmoniously entertained within a single total outlook, and I suffered much from the resulting intellectual schism. All that the new physics has done for me is to relieve me of this particular distress. Contradiction has been turned into complementarity, it being on the basis of the Heisenberg principle of indeterminacy that the further principle of Complementarity was first formulated by Professor Bohr.
Providence literally means foresight. It was a technical term of the Stoic philosophy, a translation into Latin of the original Greek word pro,noia (which rather means foreknowledge, but the meaning is the same). The Stoics, however, always used the word in the fuller sense of what Plato had already spoken of as the care (evpime,leia) exercised by God over the world and its inhabitants, and it is thus that it has ever since been understood. It is not itself a Biblical term, but the thought it represents, namely God's love and care for his people, dominates the Bible in every part. It is probably a pity that so impersonal-sounding a word has been frequently used in Christian circles as a proper name (as indeed it had been used by the Greeks for the goddess Athene); for this has sometimes led to its being vulgarly conceived as an impersonal power in some sense distinct from God, as by the farmer who, when annoyed by the bad weather, was heard to exclaim, ‘It's that there dratted providence once again, but there's One above as'll see justice done.’
The Christian doctrine of providence teaches that the whole of history stands under an ultimate divine control. This does not mean that the Christian is able to trace the working of God's hand in it all, but that he can trace it in some events which have become what we have called paradigmatic for him, having what Whitehead called an ‘elucidatory power’ which casts light on all the rest. Nor does it mean that all that happens is the result of God's direct ruling, so that no room would be left for the free action of his creatures, but rather that he can and does so ‘over-rule’ these as to make them subservient to his own ultimate purpose.
Oh yet we hope that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill.14
As Joseph said to his brethren, ‘As for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.’15 Or even, as the Church has been bold enough to sing in its office for Easter Eve, ‘O felix culpa, quae tantum et talem meruit habere Redemptorem!’ If God ‘maketh the wrath of man to praise him’,16 it is not by ruling it but by overruling it. God has something to do with all that is done in his world, though assuredly much is done that is not in accord with his will. This may sound to some mysterious doctrine, yet if things did not stand thus, it is difficult to see how God could be in ultimate control of any event, since even his most cherished designs might be frustrated by some one thing in his universe that was wholly outside his control.
It is thus in the measure of indeterminacy now confessed by the physicists to be characteristic of the world of nature that we have found room, without too difficult an intellectual schism, for our belief in the operation of divine providence. We can now believe, without developing a bad scientific conscience, that not everything is ruled by natural necessity but that there is an element of chance or of ‘random action’ in the natural world. Chance sounds like the precise opposite of providence. I remember being told in my early youth—it was a favourite saying of my mother's—that ‘Luck, fortune and chance are the devil's trinity’, and I was frequently reproved for uttering such words. I was ready to accept the reproof, and I still believe that for the eye of faith there is no such thing as chance; yet, paradoxically enough, I find this faith made easier for me when I am allowed to believe that there is such a thing as chance for the eye of physical science. What science, from its limited point of view, rightly regards as ‘random events’ which might not have happened as they did, and which could not be predicted in advance except as possibilities or probabilities, faith regards as under either the ordering or the overruling of God's providence, believing with Alexander Pope that:
All nature is but art unknown to thee.
All chance direction which thou canst not see.17
Chance and Providence is the title of Dr Pollard's book, and from it I now quote the following:
The Christian sees the chances and accidents of history as the very warp and woof of the fabric of providence which God is ever weaving.18
Let us start with the Biblical idea of providence in all its fulness and inquire into what kind of a world we must have and what conditions must be satisfied in order to make this idea valid. When the question is put in this way, we see immediately that it must be a world which is so constituted that its history has at any moment many possibilities open to it. Only in such a world could the course of events be continuously responsible to the will of its Creator.19
There are two primary sources of indeterminacy in history. One of these is chance. When we speak of chance as a factor in history, we have in mind the experience, as a typical feature of natural processes, of alternative responses to a given act of causative influences for which the laws of nature specify only the relative probabilities. Insofar as alternatives are typical of all rational processes, chance becomes a universal ingredient of history. But there is another equally important source of indeterminism in history. This is accident. The accidental as used here in connection with the nature of history refers to situations in which two or more chains of events which have no causal connection with each other coincide in such a way as to decide the course of events. The accidental does not depend on the presence of choice and alternative in natural phenomena. Two chains of events could each be rigorously determined within themselves and yet be such that their accidental convergence would decisively modify the course of history.… Accident and chance are similar in their effects on history, but they are nevertheless independent and quite separate factors.20
I doubt, however, whether the two are so entirely separate as is here implied. A strict determinist would say that a coincidence of two events is no more accidental or indeterminate or theoretically unpredictable than the occurrence of each event separately regarded, since both alike follow necessarily from the same primordial state of the material world. But I am glad that Dr Pollard has drawn our attention to the coincidental element in the course of nature, as indeed Eddington had done when he wrote that ‘There are such things as chance coincidences; that is to say, chance can deceive us by bringing about conditions that look very unlike chance. In particular chance might imitate organization, whereas we have taken chance to be the antithesis of organization or, as we have called it, the “random element”.’21 For I should hold that, while from the necessarily and justifiably restricted perspective of natural science chance seems to imitate organization, it will be apprehended from faith's wider perspective as being in fact organization—part of the organization of divine providence. I have already said that, if we believe in providence at all, we must think of it as extending to even the most apparently trivial occurrences, and in an earlier section I quoted Plato's remark that he would be a bad pilot who gave thought only to the big rocks and not at all to the small ones. The Christian view of the matter is quite clear. ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.’22
Coincidence is defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as the ‘notable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connexion’. Men often speak of such concurrences as ‘mere’ coincidences, implying that they refuse to regard them in any other light than that of chance, and therefore dismissing them from their minds as of no serious significance. But just as the Christian will not regard any event as ‘mere’ chance, so he will be on his guard against regarding any concurrence of events as ‘mere’ coincidence, and often he will find himself saying, ‘This is the Lord's doing: it is marvellous in our eyes.’23
I shall offer two examples which I select just because the occurrences to which they refer are of the kind which would commonly be dismissed as trivial.
I am a bridge-player, and one winter when I played fairly regularly, I grew so keen to win that I allowed my equanimity to be disturbed, and sometimes even my temper to be frayed, when the cards were against me. Then I had a long run of what would be called quite phenomenal bad luck, so extreme and so persistent over many months that I was tempted to say the devil was in it. Will it surprise you to hear that suddenly it came to me that God was in it? That run of bad luck was good for me. I learned something from it, and I hope that by God's grace I was thereby enabled in some measure to amend my ways in this little matter. But if I learned my lesson, it was because God meant me to learn it, because it was a lesson he was minded to teach me. If the hairs of my head are all numbered, then why not also the cards in my hand?
My other example is of a London business man who lived in a suburb but travelled into the city by the same early train every week-day morning. He was in the habit of saying his prayers before breakfast, and one morning his prayer was that God would grant him certain much-needed graces and very particularly the grace of patience. Unfortunately he lingered a little too long over his breakfast, or else his train was running a little ahead of schedule, so that when he reached the suburban station it was only to see the red tail-light disappearing at the far end of the platform. He turned round in disgust and occupied the ten minutes before the arrival of the next train by stamping angrily up and down the platform to the no small annoyance of more than one other prospective passenger with whom he forcibly collided. Then just as the second train came in, he realized that his enforced wait had been God's answer to his prayer: for how should God teach him patience unless by providing him with some opportunity of exercising it? But he had frittered away his opportunity and had not learned his lesson.
Trivial, we may say; but in God's eyes nothing is trivial. Moreover, the principle is the same as we should have to apply to the great events which determine the destinies of nations, some of which have turned, as the historians are fond of telling us, even upon a freak of the weather, such as the southerly gale that blew up the English Channel on August 9, 1588 bringing to an end the long dominance of Spain. Or we may take from the same period as the Armada another example of a ‘lucky’ conjunction of circumstances in the following passage from Professor G. M. Trevelyan's English Social History:
To remote posterity the memorable fact about Elizabethan England will be that it produced the plays of Shakespeare. It is not merely that the greatest of mankind happened to be born in that age. His work would never have been produced in any other period than these late Elizabethan and early Jacobean times in which it was his luck to live. He could not have written as he did if the men and women among whom his days were passed, had been other than they were in habits of thought, life and speech, or if the London Theatre in the years just after the Armada had not reached a certain stage of development, ready to his shaping hand.24
Thus we are again reminded of Plato's argument that it would be impossible to think of God as controlling the large-scale march of history if we believed him to be neglectful of even the pettiest happenings (ta. mikro,tata) in his world.25