Circumstances: What are they?

This is the first post in a series on “Circumstances”.

If you follow news reports in the paper or on TV you have to notice that humanity is subjected to changing circumstances continuously. At an individual level the variation is sometimes overwhelming. In an instant someone becomes a millionaire while many others suffer devastation and tragedy.

The media makes it seem like there are only bad days as nature wreaks havoc with floods and fires, more homes are foreclosed, unemployment remains high, and your favourite team plummets in the standings.

What is the reality of circumstances? They are not just concepts or ideas. They can be physical realities and events external to our bodies, such as weather and the behaviour of other people, or internal, such as muscle pain or blindness.

Originally, the word circumstance meant “that which surrounds”. Currently, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines circumstance as:

“a condition, fact, or event accompanying, conditioning, or determining another;   an essential or inevitable concomitant”.

Circumstances are prerequisites, something essential to the appearance or occurrence of something else. They may be a reasonable way to explain some forms of illness, accident, and natural disaster. The direct cause may be difficult to determine.

It’s easy to think about circumstances when things go bad, especially when we are confronted with a series of unfortunate events. At our worst we may need to be sad or angry and start looking for excuses and someone or something to blame other than ourselves. At our best we need to understand what happened, why, and how it can be improved.

How do they happen?

Without warning things just happen. We are often unable to prepare for it, let alone prevent it. What or who started it?

Sometimes the culprit is human behaviour. Catastrophes like the recent world-wide financial collapse can be tied directly to specific human behaviours. So too can world wars and regional conflicts. Specific actions by individuals or groups intoxicated with their unique religious philosophies and principles can be blamed.

In sports the circumstance that caused a sudden change in momentum is painfully clear. Ask the Argos! It can be as simple as a fumble deep in your own end recovered by the Ti-Cats with only three minutes to go. As I watched that fumble my feelings were downcast but my thoughts could imagine a wide spectrum of emotions as I considered the players on each team, their fans, parents, friends, coaches and owners.

Why do they happen?

There is more than human behaviour at play with nature’s grand scale attacks on the earth and its inhabitants. Hurricanes, tsunamis, and floods often surprise us. The tie-back to human activities is more difficult to verify. The debate rages about the effect of global warming, pollution, and the greedy exploitation of the earth’s resources. The earthquakes in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan bring up the issue of safety guidelines when developing communities.

At a biological level within our bodies, circumstances often shock us as illness or disease is diagnosed. These situations may be somewhat dependent on behaviour – either the body’s “owner” or previous generations through genetic transference.

Is it just luck that circumstances are what they are? If you look at people there are those who can be considered the “lucky ones”. Their “creature” comforts have been looked after by their parents. There is enough to eat, a comfortable place to sleep and enough funds for entertainment, not just now and then, but most of the time. Their toughest decision is – what should I do next, play some basketball with my friends, read a book, watch a video or movie, play a game on the Internet, practice my guitar, or build a model plane?

Flip the coin to the “unlucky ones”, living on the street, wondering where the next meal will come from, how to get clean clothes, where to bed down for the night and how to deal with their worsening cough.

Luck could have a lot to do with the situation we find ourselves in. Through no merit of their own some are blessed with a comfortable life, while others, through no fault of their own, live in misery. Choices, initially external to them, determined their state in life.

It’s not about fairness, so what is it about? Is it as simple as the quote attributed to John Bradford, but contested by some.

“There but for the grace of God go I.”

John Bradford, English Reformer, Martyr, Prebendary of St. Paul’s (1510–1555)

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2 Responses to Circumstances: What are they?

  1. There but for the grace of God go I – is something I say often, with true gratitude. However, do you think it is God’s grace? And the absence is witnessed as contributing to dire circumstances, including hungry, homeless children? I struggle with God differentiating grace at that level. Perhaps the sins of the fathers are passed down to his children, circumstantially and by predisposition. I am interested to know your opinion of this.

    • For sure it’s God’s grace in your case. The dire circumstances you mention are complicated due to free will and choice on the part of many people perhaps through a considerable period of time. I don’t think God differentiates grace, but allows people to make their own choices. God would prefer that everyone feels as you do, with true gratitude as you stated. The sins of the father are circumstances that the children probably have little control over , yet they (the children) may be hurt by them; now that I think of it, the children could also benefit! Why don’t you subscribe, at least for a while, to this blog since it will be a series with several more posts?

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