We had been picnicking in the park with my teenage son, it was getting late and we got in the car and started it to leave but then couldn't find my girlfriend's phone. We tried calling it with my phone, listing for it to ring, to see if it was in the car with us but heard nothing.
We left my son in the car while we walked the park in the dark looking through the grass using my phone to call her phone, listening for its ring and getting discouraged. After about 10 minutes of looking a woman was closing up her shop on the other side of the small park and made a beeline for us. She asked if something was wrong and we explained about the phone. She then asked us if we were Christian. My girlfriend said she was but that I wasn't. I agreed, saying that I was a skeptic. She asked if I minded if she prayed for me and I said ok. The shop lady prayed and asked Jesus to show me in some way that he was there and maybe even help me find my girlfriend's phone (or words to that effect). Right then my phone that my girlfriend was holding started ringing, she looked, laughed, and said, "Its for you." and handed it to me. Sure enough the caller ID showed it to be her phone calling.
I was a little unnerved having my girlfriend next to me while her missing phone was calling mine right after the prayer to find it and yes I even may have hesitated before answering, wondering who... or what, was on the other line. But I did answer and it was my son. While waiting in the car with the engine off he could hear the quiet vibrating mute setting of my girlfriend's phone, found it under her car seat, and returned the call.
Once I heard my son's voice on the other end of the call it all made sense to me. It was a coincidence. But to my girlfriend I was being closed minded. We had prayed to find her phone, found it, and now I was dismissing a genuine miracle out of hand because it wasn't part of my worldview.
She pointed out what she saw as a preponderance of signs, the shop lady's shop did charity, that she walked up to us in the dark at that moment, asking if I was a Christian, praying for us to find the phone, the phone immediately calling us back, and my son not returning our calls before the prayer.
I pointed out that if the prayer lady had never walked up to us the key events that returned the phone to us would still have happened. We still would have been calling the phone. Since the car was off, my son still would have heard the buzz of the missing phone's vibrate mode. He still would have dug around looking for the buzzing sound. After finding it, he still would have called us back. We would have answered it, rolled our eyes that it was in the car the whole time, and would have had a good laugh.
Theologians say special providence can also use, instead of the supernatural, the natural like those by coincidence to perform miracles. It seems some miracles and coincidences can be measured along the same bell curve. So then what's the difference?
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) , a Christian theologian wrote:
"Every event, even the most natural and usual, becomes a miracle as soon as the religious view of it can be the dominant."
To theologians then, a surprising and welcome coincidence following a prayer could then be a miracle.
To an empirical evidence-minded person like myself, that is a pretty broad, unfalsifiable criteria.
However, while Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) is quoted that:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,”
the science fiction author Karl Schroeder (1962-) added,
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature.”
So was it a miracle? It certainly was for her.
For me it was like a magic trick, the suspension of disbelief for a moment, surprised by the dove materializing out of thin air, then remembering it was all just an illusion. But for her this was no parlor trick. I think she saw me as scoffing at her beliefs, especially after I had relayed the story in a post of being prayed for and left out the whole 'miracle' part. I think she took my omission as denial and a cover-up, and as an implicit attack on her beliefs.
It is true I did pretty quickly call 'coincidence' and went into defensive debate mode instead of conversation and further discussing her version of it -- if for any reason just to be polite. If it were anyone else I wouldn't have cared but this was someone I love deeply. In my defense she also pretty quickly called 'miracle' and treated it as proof her beliefs are right and therefor implicitly that mine are wrong.
Perhaps our passions got the best of us.
And how did it end? We did what we normally do, shrugged in dismay of the others quirks, and both in spite of them and because of them loved each other anyways.
Plus it did remind me of a joke...
A pastor was working late on a Saturday night at the Almighty God Tabernacle. Around 10:00 PM he decided to call his wife before he left for home.
Although the pastor let the phone ring several times, his wife didn't answer. A few moments later he tried again and she answered right away. He asked her why she hadn't answered before, and she said that the phone didn't ring.
The following Monday, the pastor received a call at the church office. The caller wanted to know why the pastor had called him Saturday night. The pastor was confused.
The caller said, "It rang and rang, but I didn't answer."
Then the pastor remembered the incident and apologized for disturbing him, explaining that he had intended to call his wife and must have dialed the wrong number.
The man said, "That's okay. Let me tell you my story. You see, I was planning to commit suicide that night, but before I did, I prayed, 'God if you're there, and you don't want me to do this, give me a sign now. At that point my phone started to ring. I looked at the Caller ID, and it said, 'Almighty God.' I was just too afraid to answer!"