Spreading Light

The Total Eclipse: Miracle, Providence, Predestination, and Free Will

When good things happen, are they the result of luck? Coincidence? Or the hand of God working with the hands of humans?

My wife and I drove more than 1200 miles from Florida to Killeen, Texas to see the Total Eclipse.

In the two weeks leading up to the Eclipse (April 8, 2024), the long range weather forecast was scary: a mixture of sun, clouds, rain, and lightning on that Day!

Our worries grew as only a few days remained until the Eclipse. The weather forecast grew more reliable and accurate, predicting the very hours for the arrival of clouds, rain, and lightning—even tornadoes!

Nevertheless, we drove for three days to reach Killeen the day before the Eclipse. We didn’t want to be late for Totality. At Killeen, the Eclipse was only going to be Total for about 4 minutes.

Totality is the brief period when the Moon totally blocks the sun. At the time of Blackness, the Sun’s atmosphere—the Corona—becomes visible. It glows like a crown circling the blackened disk of the sun.

Virtually all of the United States could see a partial Solar Eclipse that day. In a partial eclipse, the Sun becomes a crescent. It’s like the changing crescent of the phases of the Moon—ranging from the almost full circle of an Almost Full Moon to a tiny sliver of a New Moon or an Old Moon (technically called a “Waning Crescent”).

But to see the Total Eclipse—Totality—we needed to be located within a narrow band that was only about 100 miles wide. This narrow Path of Totality crossed the United States from Texas to New England.

We picked Killeen, Texas because it was roughly the midpoint between where we started driving in Florida and where our daughter, her husband, and our grandson started driving in California. We wanted to be together to see Totality.

As I think back on the Total Eclipse, I see how it illustrates the concepts of “miracle” and “providence”; and of “predestination” and “free will”.

The Total Eclipse over Killeen, Texas was definitely not a miracle.

No laws of nature were broken to make the Sun and Moon align on April 8, 2024 to cause the Total Eclipse. Nor was the light from the Sun magically turned off at that exact moment.

To the contrary, the exact timing and location of the Total Eclipse was predictable hundreds—indeed, thousands—of years before. The “miracle” was the timing and location of what resulted from the normal behavior of natural laws.  Although we often call such amazing coincidences of timing “miracles”, the more accurate term is to call them “providences”.

As I came to realize how amazing it was that we “happened” to be in exactly the right spot at exactly the right moment to see the Total Eclipse, I wondered if it was the result of God’s predestination or our free will.

Certainly, God gave us the knowledge and desire to see the Total Eclipse. In that sense, he predestined our arrival at exactly the right spot at exactly the right time.

But just as certainly, we arrived at exactly that spot at exactly the right time because we exercised the free will that God gave us. We voluntary loaded our cars—one starting in California, the other starting in Florida. We drove and drove and drove, despite weariness and traffic jams.

God didn’t just snap his fingers and transport us to the exact spot at the exact time to see the Total Eclipse.

In my book Lighting the World, I state the relationship between predestination (the hand of God) and free will (the hands of humans) in the following passage. Note that this passage also warns against efforts to link contemporary events such as the War in Gaza to apocalyptic events in the Book of Revelation.

As I first published in 2004:

I remember reading some advice from Isaac Asimov to a struggling novelist. (Isaac Asimov was an immensely prolific and successful writer who succeeded in several genres. He was most famous as a science fiction writer.)

The struggling novelist explained to Isaac Asimov that he had spent considerable time working on a novel.

His draft had a great beginning and many good passages. But he was having trouble writing the end of the novel.

So he asked Isaac Asimov, “How do you figure out how to finish your novels?”

Isaac Asimov’s advice must have chilled the soul of this wannabe novelist. Because Isaac Asimov told him that the key to any good novel is to have the ending all figured out before you begin writing.

Make sure it’s a real blockbuster, satisfying ending. Then go back and figure out how to get there.

Anytime Isaac Asimov had done it any other way, he ended up the same way this wannabe novelist had—wandering aimlessly with lots of good material, but no way to turn it into a good novel. . . . .

Fortunately, God is a great novelist. God knew the ending of his “novel” before he ever wrote a word of it “[i]n the beginning” (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-4).

And so, the Word of God has been making everything work together “for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) ever since “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

God’s blockbuster, satisfying ending to his “novel” is set forth at the end of the Book of Revelation—the parts that talk about the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, about God wiping every tear from our eyes, about the healing of the nations, and about the end of all curses.

Many people have struggled to understand the Book of Revelation. And most of them end up looking very silly years later when it’s clear that their predictions about how God’s novel will end were woefully mistaken.

This danger of looking silly by trying to interpret the Book of Revelation struck me during college when I read many sermons by John Cotton for a paper I was working on about the separation of church and state.

John Cotton was perhaps the greatest thinker and preacher of the early Puritans in New England.

I was amazed that so many of his insights were still relevant and inspiring over three centuries later as I re-read them.

But there was one exception. Whenever I read any of his sermons about Revelation, I knew he was totally wrong.

I remember in particular reading a sermon where he tied various disasters and wars that had just occurred in the 1600s to specific disasters and wars predicted in Revelation. John Cotton was convinced that these disasters and wars in the 1600s clearly marked the imminent end of the world and the imminent return of Christ.

In hindsight, it is clear that John Cotton was totally wrong.

I am determined to avoid making John Cotton’s mistake.

I’m not going to pretend that I can tie passages in Revelation to specific historical events. Nor am I going to pretend that I can predict specific future events based on the passages in Revelation.

Furthermore, since some of the disagreements center around whether portions of Revelation take place on the earth or in heaven, I am going to avoid even this controversy by referring to “the Future” instead of to heaven or earth.

I will, however, offer this perspective on how I believe God is building the Future. I believe that it is an intertwining of people’s actions and God’s actions.

An example of how this works can be illustrated by some stories that I heard again while I was in Houghton for my 20th Reunion.

My best friend and I went on a guided tour of the campus for returning alums. And, of course, one of the places we visited was Wesley Chapel.

The story of how Wesley Chapel came to stand at Houghton College today is a good illustration of how inseparable the actions of people and God become when we try to explain how the Future is built.

In the beginning, it all began with the prayer of one man, Edmund Palmer.

One day over a century ago, this man was vexed by the wickedness he saw in Houghton.

A canal ran through Houghton at that time. The men who worked on the canal hauling barges with their mules were constant sources of drunkenness and debauchery.

Because of its location, Houghton was a favorite place for these men to stop and “party.” Their carousing disrupted the Sabbath. And so Houghton became known as the most wicked stop on the canal.

When Edmund Palmer could stand it no longer, he knelt down in a field where he could see and hear the evil that was engulfing Houghton. He prayed, “Lord, someday make the name of Houghton more famous for being righteous than the name of Houghton is famous today for being wicked.”

The founding of Houghton College years later near the field where he prayed is seen as God’s answer to his prayer—the establishment of the work of his hands by turning Houghton into a Promised Land (a “civilization”) that is good, that is very good.

So the origins of Houghton College, and eventually of Wesley Chapel, began with a mixture of a human acting by praying and of God acting to answer that prayer through additional countless human actions.

Was this mere luck? Mere coincidence? Or was it the hand of God working with the hands of humans?

More years passed. Houghton College was growing. It needed a larger chapel than the small auditorium on the top floor of Fancher.

(Fancher is the quaint, picturesque brick building with white trim whose belfry is a symbol of Houghton College. Part of the perennial charm and inspiration of Houghton lies in hearing the Westminster chimes in Fancher’s belfry echo off the hills while marking the hours and playing hymns. That’s why I love having the grandfather’s clock in our foyer at home play the Westminster chimes).

From one perspective, of course, humans built Wesley Chapel.

Anyone watching the Chapel being built could see that. Humans sawed the wood. Humans swung the hammers.

But from a deeper, truer perspective, it was God who built the Chapel—the place where all people are blessed by worshiping the LORD in spirit and in truth. This deeper, truer perspective can be seen from two stories about its construction.

The first story involves how the College obtained the building materials for the exterior of the building.

The College hoped to use the same kind of field stone that had been used previously to build Luckey (the ivy-covered building that houses the President’s office). But there was a problem. The field stone was on the farm of someone who would only sell it to the College at an exorbitant price—far more than the College could afford.

What to do?

The leaders of the College prayed for God’s help and guidance.

A short time later, a massive rainstorm caused a surge of water that pushed much of the field stone onto another person’s land. This person was more than happy to sell the field stone to the College at a reasonable price.

Was this mere luck? Mere coincidence? Or was it the hand of God working with the hands of humans?

The second story involves the completion of the roof for the Chapel.

Winter was closing in. The roof was still not on. The builders needed one more day to finish the roof. But snow was forecast.

The builders prayed. Snow came anyway. Snow blanketed the Southern Tier. Except at the construction site of the Chapel! No snow fell there that day! And so the builders got the extra day they needed to complete their work.

Was this mere luck? Mere coincidence? Or was it the hand of God working with the hands of humans?

How does the hand of God work with the hands of humans?

In many ways.

Certainly some of the best ways are by acting in the same way Jesus did in those four word pictures that taught us more about who Jesus is, what God is like, and how we should live than do volumes of theological speculations or hundreds of pages of my writings: blessing children, washing feet, weeping with others, and welcoming sinners. [Later in Lighting the World, at pages 181-183, I added a fifth word picture: Jesus laughing.]

Such discipline in following the ways of Jesus will build the Future that lights the world.

From our perspective in the Future (where we’ll share God’s eternal perspective), we’ll see God’s plan for creating the Promised Land: a civilization that lights the world and beyond.

And no matter how often we blessed children, washed feet, wept with others, . . . welcomed sinners [and laughed], we still will not take any credit for the success of God’s plan.

We’ll realize that the works of our hands were only established and that the Future is only so bright because God (and God alone) established the works of our hands and because God (and God alone) built that bright Future and gave that bright Future to us.

And so, only when we gather in that bright Future will we fully grasp how true the words of the hymn “To God Be the Glory” are:

To God be the glory

     great things he hath done!

So loved he the world

     that he gave us His Son,

Who yielded his life

     an atonement for sin

And opened the Lifegate

     that all may go in.


Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord,

Let the earth hear his voice!


Praise the Lord,

Praise the Lord,

Let the people rejoice!


O come to the Father

     thru Jesus the Son,

And give him the glory

     —great things He hath done!



When something good happens in your life, do you think it was luck? Coincidence? The hand of God? The hands of humans? How? Why?

When something good happens in a civilization or in the world, do you think it was luck? Coincidence? The hand of God? The hands of humans? How? Why?


For related thoughts, please read my blogs “The Christmas Star: I Saw It in Real Life”, “The Star of Bethlehem Was a ‘Can of Tuna Fish’”, and “The Nativity Scene: The Magi”.

For related thoughts, please read the chapter “The Magi Follow the Star” in my  book Hoping in the LORD, at pages 37-46, and “PART FIVE: Best Friends” in my book Lighting the World, at pages 155-186.