Finding God at the Auto Parts Store

On the first day of my recently concluded vacation, I set out with children and camper in tow from Menlo Park toward Salt Lake City, whence I was to rendezvous with my spouse, who had been spending more than a week meditating on her ancestors among the Mormons.    We made a stop just outside Tahoe for some needed refreshment, and having had our hunger and thirst quenched, returned to our caravan to continue eastward.  I decided to check the hook-up between the truck and the camper, just to make sure that everything was in order, and I discovered that at some point in our journey, the cable that connects the camper’s lights to the truck (thus giving them power and making them operational) had come out of its plug just below the back bumper.  It had clearly dragged along the ground for a while, for the little metal fingers that allowed the cable to meet the plug had been sheered off.  It would be unsafe to continue in this condition — I needed to find a new cable.  Pondering this new reality, I lifted up my head and, behold, like a beacon on the hill just above where I stood, there was an auto supply store.   With joy in my heart, I made the short journey up the hill and inquired at the store whether they had a replacement cable of the kind I needed.  They did indeed!  Initially, it did not seem to want to plug into the truck, however, and I ended up back in the store befuddled.  One of the men working there came out with me to see if he could do better, and discovered what I had suspected:  that the rubber bumper around the metal fingers on the new cable were causing a problem.  He supplied me with a razor blade, and I was able to cut off the rubber bumper, plug in the cable, and resume my journey after perhaps a half hour’s delay.  As I maneuvered back onto the highway, I felt grateful that there had been an auto parts store so close at hand, and the problem had been so easily fixed.   Somewhere in my brain, a little voice said, “See, God does provide…..”

Now, calm down.  I’m not suggesting that God spoke to me just then (I’m quite sure I was speaking to myself — which may be a source of concern, but let’s save that for another time).  Nor do I think that God arranged for an auto parts store to be close at hand at precisely the moment I needed it.  Although, it was a very convenient coincidence, and someone (I know not who) once said that “for people of faith, there is no such thing as a coincidence.”

What I’m getting at here, of course, is the deep and perhaps unsolvable mystery of what God has to do with any of us at any particular time or moment in our lives.  It is tragically and painfully true that God does not conveniently provide an auto parts store close at hand every time someone needs it, nor does God provide a cure every time someone gets sick.   God does not prevent bad things happening to good people, nor good things happening to bad people.  Life happens, and I have faith that God is in the midst of it, but I must admit that I don’t always know how.

At the same time, when I look at how my life has unfolded to date, there does seem to be a certain shape to it.  Certain patterns seem to run across it and through it.   I can point to an amazing number of “convenient coincidences” that have led me to who and what and where I am today.  And in that shape, those patterns and the many convenient coincidences, I perceive the presence of God — and that perception brings forth a sense of gratitude.  If I am very honest, I will admit that that sense of gratitude is held alongside of a sense of “but, gee, I wish THAT hadn’t happened” which could be applied to the many mistakes, missteps and wrong turns that are also a part of my personal history.  But the gratitude is greater — most of the time, anyway.

What am I grateful for, exactly?  I am grateful, I guess, for the mystery of life, which includes the mystery of God and of the mysterious ways in which my life and God’s life seem to intersect.  I can’t look directly at those intersections, but I catch glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye.

So a conveniently placed auto parts store elicits from me a sense of gratitude for whoever put it there and however it came to be that my need for an auto part and the presence of that store came together.  And I am grateful for the fact that one of the employees of that store was kind enough to go above and beyond the call of duty to help make things work out.  Whether you wish to think of it as the Miracle of the Auto Parts or the Gee, Matthew Was Lucky event, you have to marvel at the mystery of life — and give thanks that there is any mystery at all.

3 thoughts on “Finding God at the Auto Parts Store

  1. A great story! It does bring-up the unanswerable questions, though. I believe that God is perfectly capable of intervening in our daily lives,and in fact does, both in big ways and in small. The question is: Why does he choose to intervene sometimes and not others? Why do we sometimes perceive his intervention in the “small things” and can’t receive it in the “big things?” Or vice versa?

    My favorite analogy is that of a father to a child. The father, being an adult, understands the “grand scheme of things” much more than does a child. So, there are times when the child asks for something of the father, and the father grants the child’s request…or doesn’t. Many of us have heard the “But WHY Daddy?” and the answer is often (maybe TOO often) “Because I said so.” The child doesn’t understand the reasons the father has for sometimes granting, other times refusing, his or her request.

    So it seems to me to be with God. Our heavenly Father clearly understands the “grand scheme of things” infinitely more than we do. Our requests are sometimes granted, and sometimes not. Sometimes we sense His intervention when we haven’t even asked. But through it all, I am certain that God, just like an earthly father, is listening and watching, and is aware of all of his child’s needs.

    So, despite my frequent “But, WHY Father” to God, I have faith in his presence, and trust that he is looking out for my eternal best interests.

    In fact, I am positive of that great truth.

    • I, too, Monty have found value in the parent-child metaphor in thinking about the nature or our relationship with God. Interestingly, though, I am drawn to a different aspect of that metaphor: the fact that a truly loving parent will recognize that for a child to grow into maturity, he or she has to be allowed to make mistakes and accept their consequences, and the fact that no matter how much a parent loves a child, there are some things — many things, actually — that a parent cannot protect the child from. Meditating on these two realities leads me to acknowledge that life is set up in such a way that we do have the freedom to make choices and that we must live with the consequences of those choices (not really difficult to acknowledge in relation to God) and it also leads me to suspect that even the overpowering love of God cannot prevent bad things from happening to us — though it can give us the strength to pass through those things. This is more difficult, because it flies in the face of the traditional understanding of God’s omnipotence. There is a school of theology, however, which would suggest that to say God is all-powerful means that God can do whatever can be done. But the very nature of reality may mean that there are some things God cannot do. I’m not saying that I embrace this, but it does provide food for thought. Every theological answer, of course, raises other theological problems, and we can never fully resolve the mystery. What I cannot accept is the notion that God has some plan which includes, for example, people getting cancer. Returning to the parent-child analogy, I think we must recognize that a healthy, loving parent would never desire his child to suffer. However, a truly loving parent recognizes that suffering is unavoidable. The more one thinks on these things, the more tremendous the mystery seems to become.

  2. I too disagree with those who believe that God has a “plan” for each of us. I was recently diagnosed with cancer myself, and I certainly don’t think that was part of his plan for me. I do pray that He will choose to intervene in the course of events for me…but I acknowledge that He may choose not to. Why? I don’t know. The mind of the Almighty is far too great for me to understand. Nevertheless, I trust him to be with me every step of the way. It is a mystery, and the more thought one invests in this mystery, the greater it becomes.

    It seems to me to be unsolvable. I do think that we should resist the temptation to apply our own feeble knowledge in order to try to draw conclusions. Man’s limits on understanding the divine have frustrated humankind since our most ancient ancestors first looked to the heavens and asked “Why”. We still don’t have the answer.

    So my default position is as it has always been. That is that I just don’t know. I will just continue to have faith that God can do as he pleases, and I, as his creation and servant, will continue to faithfully accept whatever course he either permits, or sends me, to follow.

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