In Defense of Randomness

January 26, 2015
Adam Whitescarver

For our introductory blog entry, I felt it best if we defended the spirituality of randomness. The reason for this is that this blog, though focused on improving the prayer lives of our readers and their intimacy with God, will be all over the place in terms of content. We aren’t going to be linear or curriculum based. This is because we intend to write only those things that are burning on our hearts to give away to others—and that’s bound to change from author to author as we rotate through our schedule. That said, my hope here is to give an encouraging theological defense for being random in our spiritual walks with God as well as in our prayer lives.

Let’s start with Church History where from the beginning we see random collections of thoughts being considered acceptable and edifying. Towering intellects such as the Church Father Origen wrote books entitled Miscellanies. Fast forward to the 1600’s and you have Blaise Pascal’s Pensées (Thoughts), a book of his thought fragments posthumously assembled. Millions have been comforted and edified by these random ideas—most famous of which is probably “The heart has reasons that reason does not know.” For centuries, works like these (miscellanies) were regularly found not just in Christian circles, but also in pagan as well.

Let’s move on from this brief history of thought and look to the Scriptures. Read through the Psalms—a collection of prayers—and if reading from one to another or even within many of them (see Ps 127, 139:13-24 for example), you’ll notice that they can jump around in subject matter a lot. To be sure, there are themes in them, but they aren’t the most sequential of writings. The same is true for Proverbs and the prophets. God gave oracles directly to His prophets, and many of these bounce around quite a bit. Furthermore, when the oracles were given in the first place, it was frequently done in a spontaneous way, “The word of the Lord came to me…” Again, there are themes to all that they say, but to call all of these thoughts subsequent, one-to-another, is a bit of a stretch.

In 1 John, we have what is perhaps the primary example of a brilliant lover of God who does not write a simple 3-point message to his flock. This epistle (letter) isn’t at all linear in its themes; John is almost maddeningly all over the place. In fact, he’s so non-linear in this book that if you or I attempt to read it with the mindset that John is trying to be sequential, we won’t properly understand what he’s getting at in the first place! Rather, the themes in 1 John have been described as “symphonic”—saying a little bit of one thing, moving on to another, and then returning to the original theme by rephrasing it or weaving it in with different ideas in a beautifully flowing yet indistinguishable pattern. Try reading 1 John in light of this and you’re bound to get a lot more meaning out of what he’s saying to us.

Finally, the Bible itself, taken as a whole, could very well appear to the untrained eye as something that isn’t a cohesive whole. We know better and have been trained to see it collectively as God’s inerrant word, but without knowing this we could easily miss the beauty of it’s interconnected doctrines and truth that is backed up in various places throughout the entire text. For so many, this is why they miss the truth that is replete throughout Scripture and instead come up with all manner of erroneous doctrines, for example: saying that several different people authored Isaiah or that Paul’s letters had multiple authors simply because they change subject matter or style so sharply. No, changing subject matter in a flash is perfectly acceptable and can be a holy thing. People do this, God is demonstrated to do this from the Bible and the Bible does this as well.

All this tends to persuade us that the Mind of Christ is not solely linear. It is apparent, from the testimony of Scripture, that the non sequitur can also be divinely inspired! Should we not consider then, in our own prayer lives, paying attention to spontaneous thoughts as things that God might be dropping into our hearts in order to get our attention? What thoughts or prayerful moments are there that come to us from God that we could miss simply because they didn’t line up with what we thought were the acceptable or honorable forms of thinking (i.e. linear, logical)?

Note that I am NOT saying every random thought is great or that we should be distracted by every passing SQUIRREL!!! running by outside. However, I am trying to get us to pause and reflect—being mindful that not every random or fleeting thought is to be dismissed. Even if the distraction comes from outside us, is not God the One who orders our lives and everything in them? Who can say that the distractions that come to us aren’t at least sometimes ordained by Him in order to get our attention? Acts 17:26-28 tells us that He sets up our lives to get us to seek Him! Consider Moses at the Burning Bush, Jacob and his sleeping stone, Ezekiel at the Chebar Canal, Zechariah carrying out his customary priestly duties and the shepherds who watched their flocks by night!

So, if your mind wanders from subject to subject in prayer, you shouldn’t disqualify your prayer time as distracted, unholy or unloving toward God. Too many prayer lives have been discouraged simply because of the saint’s mind being prone to distraction. Love God with all your focused times of prayer and love Him with all your randomness as well. God be with you to help you know Him more.