I first came across this idea from reading a book of New Age spirituality. The idea that every little detail in our lives might be orchestrated by God to guide us, send us a message, or help us grow closer to Him.
Then I realized that lots of Catholics also believe in this. “There are no coincidences” is something they say. But I haven’t seen this in catechisms or catholic theology books. And some Catholics don’t seem to stress this idea as much, as if this life has lots of hardships and random events caused by sin, and that God mostly works within our souls rather than through random events and interactions with others.
Is there any official church teaching on this topic?
You are speaking of God’s Providence. This and other sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the doctrine:
V. GOD CARRIES OUT HIS PLAN: DIVINE PROVIDENCE
302 Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created “in a state of journeying” (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call “divine providence” the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection:
By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, “reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well”. For “all are open and laid bare to his eyes”, even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures.161
303 The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God’s absolute sovereignty over the course of events: "Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases."162 And so it is with Christ, “who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens”.163 As the book of Proverbs states: "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established."164
304 And so we see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes. This is not a “primitive mode of speech”, but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world,165 and so of educating his people to trust in him. The prayer of the Psalms is the great school of this trust.166
305 Jesus asks for childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father who takes care of his children’s smallest needs: "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?”. . . Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well."167
Providence and secondary causes
306 God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.
307 To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of “subduing” the earth and having dominion over it.168 God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God’s will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers and their sufferings.169 They then fully become “God’s fellow workers” and co-workers for his kingdom.170
308 The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."171 Far from diminishing the creature’s dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God’s power, wisdom and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for "without a Creator the creature vanishes."172 Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God’s grace.173
Still, there’s the question of how often God acts through his creatures.
VERY often… constantly, since His creatures act constantly.
Or does this refer to every action of every creature?
“ALL the actions”
Or just people with the Holy Spirit,
ALL “His creatures”
or just some actions
“ALL the actions”
as long as any one of His “creatures” is performing an action
So every single thing that happens around me and to me is God’s action? Even when people sin and harm me? And it’s always part of God’s plan?
But maybe when something bad happens to me, it was necessary for someone else, not necessarily for my good, right? Like if I get in a car accident, maybe it was for the good of the driver of the other car, but not for my good?
So if part of believing in God is that we believe that every single thing that happens to us is God’s will for our own good (even the results of our own mistakes?) … I guess that means I’ve never really believed in God yet?
I have to I guess come to terms with this and then go to confession and admit that all my sacraments were in vain because I didn’t actually believe in God?
The way I see it is that you put your life into God’s hands and He leads you down the path. Everyone has free will so other people may CHOOSE to act out of God’s path for them and therefore affect your life badly…like the car wreck…BUT God is GOD for a reason and he is able to change someone else’s screwup on your life to help you in the end and get you back on track if you allow him to.
Personally I think that a lot of things in my life happened for a reason. Some things I thought were impossible ended up being possible and the only explanation I can offer is God’s work b/c too much happened to just be random coincidence.
Hmm… I’m thinking of coincidences like… right at the time when you were in a situation/state of mind to be open to receiving a message from God, you randomly find a pamphlet with a religious message on it that converts you. People have all sorts of stories of things like that happening to them, that they assign to God.
Or you get in a car accident and realize later that had it not been for the delay of the car accident, you would have been running an hour earlier and never would have bumped into an old friend you haven’t seen for 10 years who ends up introducing you to your future spouse.
Coincidences like that. Some Christians seem to shrug them off, others think literally everything is a co-incidence like that with God working something for us through every little thing.
(Which is nice because even if I run over my beloved pet cat in the driveway when I get home tonight, I would know that it must have some great reason for happening. )
Are we as catholics given some latitude in how much stock we put in coincidences like that being God’s providence?
I feel like we can make mistakes in our life, do things outside of God’s will, that is what free will is. If we couldn’t do anything outside of God’s will for us than wouldn’t the world be perfect? I’m sitting here in a time in my life where I KNOW that the “coincidences” that have been occurring in my life are really God orchestrating things around me so that I can best deal with the situation at hand. It is simply amazing all of the things that have occurred to set me up for this incredible hardship I’m enduring. I really believe that things have happened just as they have in my life so that I can make the decision to follow His path for me. Yes, I can make a mistake and screw up all that God has tried to tell me is good and right, but He is doing his darnedest to stop that from happening by creating all of these “coincidences”.
Yes, I can think of a few such coincidences in my life.
Are we as catholics given some latitude in how much stock we put in coincidences like that being God’s providence?
Since everything is in accord with God’s Providence, not much (the lilies of the field, the birds in the air, and all that). But, we don’t go around keeping a running count, instead we are try, by His grace, to live in His Presence, accepting each moment as coming from His Hand - all with living Faith, Hope and Charity. A book - if you haven’t already discovered it - that you might enjoy is The Practice of the Presence of God, by Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection.
What you are more or less describing is Divine Providence - & there is a lot of teaching on it, in the CCC for instance.
**R. Garrigou-Lagrange devotes an entire book to Providence, writing from a Thomist POV. Among the Fathers, Lactantius wrote upon it; it was almost his favourite theme. **
**Where the CC does fall down ISTM is in teaching people tomake the consideration of Providence part of the spiritual lives. The Puritans OTOH had a lot to say about it - most of them were Calvinists, & Calvinism very strongly emphasises that all things, however insignificant-seeming, are entirely subject to God’s Sovereignty. **
**So there really is no coincidence, no luck, no chance or fortune - everything, however random on the face of it, has a purpose in God’s Purpose. If we *really *believe that God is the “Creator of all things visible and invisible”, how can we think otherwise ? And if we do believe He is, then it follows that His Providence rules over the bodies of men no less than over their souls. As for sin - God knows that men sin, & is more than equal to making our sins subservient to His Glory; in no way is He thwarted by them; we are, but not God. **
**IMHO, the doctrine would be much more alive among us if we could only get it into our heads that we are creatures, & that God is our Sovereign Creator & Lord from Whom nothing in any of us can be hidden. (Father F.W. Faber’s book “The Creator and the Creature” is very well worth reading on that.) **
**All creation is entirely open to God in every respect - so nothing in it can escape Him, or be ascribed to anything outside His Sovereign Rule. So what we call Divine Providence is more important than it may look, because it is closely connected with things that we emphasise much more; such as the Goodness & Power of God, & why there is suffering. It is also very important for how confident we are in God - so it is far from irrelevant; as is clear from your own post alone. **
Thank you.In the book Celestine Prophecy the author tries to show how we should take advantage of all the co-incidences around us to see where God is leading us. So when we accidentally bump into someone, we should realize that this is a co-incidence orchestrated by God and talk to that person to find out why God made us meet. Or if we accidentally get lost while going somewhere, look around where we found ourselves to see why God brought us there. Who were we supposed to talk to here, or what were we supposed to see and learn from?
A specific question from my life is that when I bought my house I unknowingly moved quite close to a Dominican college that offers theology and philosophy classes. Sometimes I wonder if that is a hint from God that I should take a class there. Did God arrange things that way to make me think about that? Or should I ignore coincidences like that and just use reason and prayer to discern if I should take a theology class?
Or another time I looked down on the ground and there was a fortune from a fortune cookie and I picked it up and it seemed meaningful. But just how much stock should I put in that fortune as being a “message from God” … How much effort should I put into pursuing the message contained in the fortune cookie. If nothing is a co-incidence, does that mean I have to take that fortune cookie message as a divine command?
**That doesn’t follow - it would if we lived our lives without obligations to others; but moral choices are usually made by people who have to balance a whole lot of obligations, & to discern which is most important at any given moment: it can be more important to look after a sick relative than to go to Mass, even on Sunday. Again, it is always more important to save someone from drowning, than to go to Confession. **
**Choices are never isolated - if an advertisement on the TV says “Get Rich Quick!” that does not make it a Divine command; because we have duties which are not doubtful, which are much less debatable, which stem from our vocation as Christians; & the more certain can’t be sacrificed to the less certain. **
**If Providence has decreed that someone should have repeated difficulties in “trying his vocation” as a Carmelite, their persistence may be a trial - or it may be a sign that his vocation lies elsewhere. If his parents are elderly & have no-one else to care for them, it’s extremely likely that he has no vocation to the Carmelites, or no vocation to the religious life, or that if he has either, the time is not yet - his known obligations, to his parents, take priority. **
**Sometimes, what looks like a command, is really a test. “Get Rich Quick!” can be read as a command - or, it can be a test of the reader’s heart. Christ does not command us to amass treasures on earth, & both Testaments contain warnings against avarice & covetousness & possessiveness. As if that were not enough, so does the teaching of the Churches, the CC & the others. So it is unlikely on the face of it to be a command That it is not a command, does not make it meaningless - it can be significant in other ways or for other people. **
**If something is God’s Will, we will - sooner or later - not be left in much doubt: that is certain. Our part is to learn to be sensitive to His Will, & that means being the sort of people who are sensitive to it. And that comes about, for most of us, by being faithful to the light He has already given us. The extraordinary & out-of-the-way is not on the whole a good guide to our daily decisions. Something may be extra-ordinary to one person who notices it, & not to another; it may be “coincidental” to one person, yet re-inforce something in the experience of another, & be very significant for that person. **
**Decisions, if made by Christians, are a moral matter or at least have moral implications. That’s why they are not isolated; they are related to other things. But something out of the ordinary need not be related to anything we are aware of - unless it recurs a few times, it may well be a very bad guide to what a particular person should do. **
**So there are a lot of issues in your question :o ****Does that help ? If not, forget you ever read it **