Providence, or pure lucky coincidence?


My father-in-law, in the middle of Bountiful Boulevard. The photo was taken by the daughter of the physician who was on the scene, and shared by her on Facebook.


I think I’m aware of all or most of the major arguments against the reality of divinely providential interventions in daily life.  I understand selection bias.  I’m keenly aware that the anguished prayers of parents to save the life of their children often seem to go ignored while other people, not apparently any more righteous, appear to be supernaturally led to find lost keys or to acquire a not-strictly-needed vacation beach home.  I once even offered a slightly tongue-in-cheek theodicy to account for the latter scenario.


But many, many, many people believe that they have encountered, benefited from, or been the agents of divine providence at specific points in their lives.  The bullet that missed, the unexpectedly right turn inexplicably taken, and so forth.  And simply knowing that bullets often don’t miss, and that disastrously wrong turns are often taken, seldom persuades them that they’re wrong.


Any who feel led to share such a story here are welcome to do so.


I offer another case:


We took my father-in-law to Hawaii a couple of weeks ago in hopes of cheering him up after the death of his wife back in April.  He had been astonishingly, selflessly devoted to her care as her health declined over the past decade, but now she’s gone.


In his late eighties, he enjoyed snorkeling in Hawai’i with us and with one of his sons, walking about the lava fields of the volcanic national park on the Big Island, strolling on beaches, and so on.  It was a great eight or  nine days.


Then, a week ago early Saturday evening, he was walking near his home, around the grounds of the Bountiful LDS Temple, when, evidently, his hip broke and he found himself prone in the middle of the street.


Fortunately, a car was slowly coming toward him at that very moment, and, with his daughter, the driver of the car saw everything as it happened.  The driver instantly pulled over, ran to my father-in-law’s side, called in for an ambulance, and attended to the injuries as best he could.  Remarkably, the driver was a veteran orthopedic surgeon by the name of Dr. Lyle Mason.  He immediately knew precisely what had happened and what to do.  We are deeply grateful to him.


We’ve since learned that he was running a somewhat atypical errand, and that he had felt inspired to take a different route than he would normally take.


I realize that questions and objections can easily be raised to any reading of this that suggests a providential element in the story.  My father in law strongly disagrees, though.  And, if reports are correct, so would Dr. Mason.



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  • Mr. Sweeps

    2 weeks ago during a business trip on the opposite side of the planet from my home I happened to be standing at a tram stop when two young vacationers started asking the locals directions to their hotel. No one else understood them or their inadequate maps. I saw that they were from where I served my mission, so I was able to converse with them despite their jet lag.

    Turns out that their hotel was a half-block from my prior office, so I

    - spoke their language
    - knew their exact destination
    - knew how to get them across town to their remote destination
    - had the time to do so (I had 2 hours with nothing planned)
    - was willing to respond to the ‘nudge’ and and say ‘may I help you’.

    Not as ‘big’ as yours, but a little tender mercy. It more than made up for the troll that pestered me the week prior. He’d offered to share some ‘important’ things, I asked him simply “have you asked The Lord about it” to which he replied, quote “I don’t have to, it’s on the Internet”.

    We all get moments of gratitude, whether we chose to be that one leper or not is our call. Thanks for your persistence despite the trolls.

    • Kenngo1969

      That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing. I, along with half a dozen other U.S. tourists, would still be wandering, hopelessly lost, around Valencia, Spain, if I hadn’t found someone who sounds very much like you in a very similar circumstance last May. As someone who, along with several others, was on the receiving end of such a kindness, I say, may God bless you, sir!

  • Ray Agostini

    This isn’t an experience I had (though I’ve had many since childhood), but an old snail-mail correspondent of mine going back about 25 years. He was a skeptic, classed himself as “agnostic”, and was a member of the Rationalist Association. We had a weekly two-year correspondence (one of my many) largely based on “metaphysical questions”, particularly science, religion and skepticism.

    I received a letter from him one day (c.1991) describing an incident that happened to him, which left him puzzled with “wonderment”. He said that one morning during the previous week, for no apparent reason, he began thinking about an old friend of his, from some 40+years previous. He wondered what became of him, where he lived, and how his life was going (if, indeed, he was even still alive).

    Later that morning, he walked out to check his mailbox, and in it was a letter from that very same old friend, who, probably wondering the same things, looked up his address and sent off a letter (no Internet then).

    From the “tone” of my correspondent’s letter, I could sense a feeling of mild shock (perhaps an understatement), as he conveyed to me that this old friend of his “was not even remotely in his mind” for more years than he could count – until that morning *before* he checked his mailbox. For *him*, anyway, it was a personal “Wow!” moment, but I’m sure he also felt it was pointless conveying this incident to his friends at the Rationalist Association, but he knew I wouldn’t belittle his experience. Indeed, I still remember his letter some 23 years later, because I too have had many such experiences.

    • Kenngo1969

      That, too, is awesome! Thanks for sharing. :-)

  • Kenngo1969

    Not, of course, to trivialize your father-in-law’s painful experience (or Dr. Mason’s timely, providential intervention) in any way, but if I needed another one, I’ve found yet another reason to be a fan of my Utah Jazz: Dr. Mason is the team’s orthopedic surgeon. You go, Dr. Mason. And Go, Utah Jazz! (Best wishes to your father-in-law for a speedy recovery, and condolences to you and all of yours on your recent loss …)

    P.S.: Although I’m only about half your father-in-law’s age, I have it on personal authority that good orthopedic surgeons are worth their weight in gold: my parents and I were guided to one such surgeon after several unsuccessful procedures. It is only thanks to several of his interventions that I am able to walk today at all, let alone to do so relatively free of pain. I believe our Heavenly Father guided my parents and me to him, as well as guiding his hand while he performed those several procedures. Best wishes, and God Bless.

  • Richard Cobbledick

    I remember a very interesting story about providence/coincidence from Readers Digest many years ago. Two very attractive women were involved in an auto accident at an intersection in a very large city. They gave each other their insurance information then got in their cars and drove off, and then had another collision with each other across town later the same day. Neither woman had ever been involved in an accident before.

    God does work in mysterious ways.

  • Rhett Wilkinson

    Thanks for sharing, Dr. Peterson. I enjoy reading your stuff weekly, it seems. We met right after you spoke at FAIR Conference 2011, when I thanked you for being willing to share the front page of the Mormon Times sometimes. We also met in the fall 2012, at the Mormon philosophy conference at Utah State University.