RELIGION: It is enough to make you question the idea of coincidence

Canon Gerry Conroy

I don’t know if you believe in coincidences. I have a story about coincidences: Josephus was a Jewish general turned Roman citizen who was present when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. And he noted that the day it happened which was 9th day of the Jewish month of Av, was the exact same day on which King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem 657 years previously, a destruction the Prophet Jeremiah attributed to the sins of the people of Israel.

Josephus didn’t believe it was just a coincidence that both temples were destroyed on the same day and he attributed the cause of the destruction of the temple in 70AD to the punishment of God for the sins of Israel. Some people would just see in that a remarkable coincidence, others would agree with Josephus and see the hand of God at work there.

Listening to the Gospel and the talk of the destruction of the temple and the disasters associated with it, it is understandable that people would look at our own times and begin to question the meaning of what is happening now. Is it just a coincidence that the world is in such a bad state? First of all there was the Covid pandemic with all the attending disruption; then the war with the unsettling talk of the nuclear option and the economic crisis that the war has brought with it, there is the general polarisation within nations that seems to threaten national unities, and then there is the situation in which we find ourselves with the collapse of morals, not to mention the ecological disaster we are constantly being warned about.

There is a fear that the march of progress has halted and we are now facing a future marked by increasing poverty and hardship. The first reading we heard from the prophet Malachi, only seems to add to the impression that all of these things are a punishment from God, just as was the destruction of the temples. I suppose we can call it a coincidence, but there remains a nagging doubt about it all. It must be worse for Jews because that day, the 9th day of the month of Av was also the day which the Nazis began the so called ‘Final Solution’ and it became the official policy of that evil regime to exterminate all Jews.

It was also the day on which they began the extermination of the Jews imprisoned in the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw. That day is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and is a day of fasting and abstaining from recreational activities for many Jews. Not a coincidence for them.

It is enough to make you question the idea of coincidence; it is also enough to make you question what God might be doing in all of this. You might think that the holocaust would have caused Jews to lose faith in God. But that was not the case for most of them, even in the concentration camps, in the midst of so much evil. Certainly, some did lose faith, about 11%, but the majority didn’t and 5% of Jews who did not believe in God until they experienced the concentration camps began to believe.

Christ warned we would be persecuted and said we were not to give up in the face of persecution and hardship, but instead see it as an opportunity to give witness. Don’t be frightened is the watch word. In the face of all these calamities that seem to threaten us, in the face of our personal tribulations and hardships, ‘Don’t be frightened of things we cannot control, because God has his own plan and it is for our good, for our salvation and that plan will triumph.

What is asked of us is to trust and witness to the hope that is ours. We are not to succumb to despair or fear; we are to continue to love and believe and hope

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton, and St Peter’s, Bellsmyre.

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