"How do I know if it's God?" A conversation with a Friend

Hello Dr. Pendergrass,

I'm enjoying your tweets, articles and podcasts. Thank you! I have a question. How does one discern whether a happening is from God, fate, free choices/decisions, right time and place, etc. I know the assumption is whatever happens is God's will...but you go left..one thing happens...right the other thing happens. So sometimes it seems dependent on what one FEELS is right...? Ex:Was the chance meeting meant to be or just that...chance. I know we are to pray and trust and then things should seem clear but if they don't.... any suggestions?!

Hello Friend,

Thank you for the kind words! I'm so glad you're enjoying my material. I hope it helps you act like Jesus more.

This is a great question. I have a few reflections:

(1) The term, "fate," has gone through many changes in nuanced meaning throughout history. I assume you mean it in the sense of "destiny" or "predetermined actions or results." In the Christian worldview, this is both true and false. God is sovereign over all that occurs in that He causes some things, sustains some things, and allows some things (there is so much more here, but I'll limit my message :) ). So, in that sense, the universe has a "fate." However, God most certainly does not cause human actions. We are not bound to a "fate" that God chooses for us regardless of our will.

(2) Therefore, humans do have "free choices/decisions" to a large degree. (Of course, I'm not completely free--I'm not free to think like a woman or like a cheetah, or free to live on the moon right now, etc.). Within certain parameters, I make free choices every minute of consciousness. By that I mean, no one is making me use my will a certain way. I'm not really hooked up to a machine and am dreaming about typing this. My point is: you and I have genuine freedom to choose things within certain parameters. We must have this freedom or morality is a terrible illusion.

(3) This is why I don't ever say (though it's said ALL the time) anything like, "whatever happens is God's will." That would mean that God's will includes evil and sin. The Bible surely disagrees with that portrayal of God. God RESCUES humanity from sin; He is the not the author of it. So, I really don't think God is the cause of all things. He rules over all things; He does not cause all things.

(4) So....the really hard question is, How do I know if God is in the midst of this occurrence or is it just some chance thing? If it’s a clear miracle, then the answer is easy (Though I think Christians give credit to God too easily too often just because something is special or unexpected.). I know of multiple miracle stories (e.g., person’s eyes being given sight while praying for them, etc.)

But what about those not-so-clear cases? My short answer is, I don’t know. I’m not sure. And I don’t care always to know. I’m convinced what Christians are to do is to act like Jesus in any and all situations, regardless if God caused an event or not. That is, it’s easy to focus so much on “Did God cause this?” that we can miss our moral duty to behave like Him in the situation.

Having said that, there are two criteria that I use when attempting to determine if God orchestrated an occurrence. Now, this isn’t an exact science, but I still find this to be true, both for me and numerous devout Christians I know.

(1)    The Holy Spirit can tell us on the inside. There is just a strong sense that God was in this. And, usually the other person concurs. That is, Christians can have strong internal confirmation that the Spirit was involved. And remember, Christians are people who have access to the Holy Spirit, so it should never be a surprise that the Spirit will guide you with thoughts, intuitions, and insights that lead to situations that God wants. We should deliberately ask the Spirit to do just that!
(2)    There are times when the occurrence is so “coincidental,” with the added feeling of the Spirit’s presence, that I am compelled to say that God is orchestrating the event. When I find myself saying, “There’s just no way this could have happened like that without God,” then I’m on to something. Now, remember, this is crucial: whatever happened that seems so incredibly improbable must be something that Jesus would do. It must line up perfectly with the teachings of Jesus. If you’re convinced that God is telling you to go buy a private jet or that God wants you to be a millionaire so that you can buy an island, then you’re probably not being led by the Spirit.

That’s it. Again, it’s not a science. No relationship is a science. It’s about getting to know a person’s voice. Over time, you just get better at it (even with failures!). I find that if the Spirit's in it, it always feels like, what I call, a "peaceful compulsion." It just feels like the right thing to do. If you feel very restless or like there's some block on the inside, then I'd stay away from it.

And one last tip: give yourself time and grace. If God really wanted you to know that He caused some situation, then He'd send an angel or something. So, it's OK if you're not sure. Wait and see if that feeling of "God is in this" fades in a couple days. If not, maybe you're right!

Nevertheless, if I were to encourage you, I’d say…Move away from, “Did God cause this?” to “God, help me deny my will, pick up my cross, and follow you wherever you want” or “God, how can you shape my character in this situation?”

For the Kingdom,