A life-changing coincidence

This page last updated February 11th, 2022

A Scottish immigrant to Australia meets the love of his life and marries her. Some time later, now a successful lawyer, but feeling in despair, he splits, leaving her and the children. It seems like his life is becoming meaningless.

This is the story of how God engineered a significant coincidence that put both their lives back on track.

Good reason to be sceptical

John Gilmour grew up in post-war Scotland. He lived in a small village, attended school and church, where his father was an elder and did farm work. He found church boring, and his experience of church members in daily life led him to conclude they were hypocrites.

At age 12 he was given the option, and chose to stop attending. By the time he was studying law at university he was cynical about christianity, playing Rugby (football) and enjoying life. He treated most christians with disdain.

See the world, change your life

After a few years practicing law, John hit the road of travel and self-discovery making his way as far as Pakistan, where fighting between India and Pakistan forced him to take a flight out of Kashmir. Of the only two options available, he ended up in Perth, Australia.

He felt right at home in Australia and began legal work again. He fell in love, married and eventually started a family. So far, so good.

Living together and falling apart

But his marriage began to become poisonous. John now sees that, immature and with false expectations, he was quite unprepared for sharing his life with another person. The children were beginning to suffer, so John walked out.

John shared a flat with a friend whose marriage had also collapsed. They played sport and drank together and tried to pretend they were happy, but John knew he was deeply unhappy.

Checkmate in two moves

Then John’s friend became a christian. His friend was insistent that Jesus had changed his life for the better, but John was by then cynical and immensely antagonistic towards Christianity. Finally, after one more night in the pub and one more attempt by his friend to talk to him about Jesus, John was sick of it. So he decided it was time to make a deal, and said:

I will come to the church that you go to and I’ll listen to this pastor or whatever it is you call this bloke. Nothing will happen. I will then leave the church and you’ll never talk about Jesus again. So that’s the deal.

His friend agreed – what else could he do?

So next Sunday morning, John and his friend walked into a small suburban church – and sitting in the congregation was his wife.

Marcia’s story

John had not seen his wife for several months. She was not a churchgoer. But the previous night she had been to a party and was driving home when she saw the neon-lit cross outside the church. For some reason she felt the urge to check it out, stopped, noted the service times, and decided to go to church in the morning.

Somehow she missed the service she intended to go to, and so was at the later service when John turned up.

A bit of a set-up?

John surprised himself by sitting down next to her even though they had not parted on good terms. The service began, much more informal than the services John had attended back in Scotland. The preacher talked about the Bible character Jonah, who turned his back on God, and a series of disasters followed.

John says now it felt like my life passed in front of me. While he had absolute confidence …. all my life that there was no God, suddenly he knew two things:

I knew there was a God and … I knew that he loved me. I can’t explain that.

All change

So began a radically altered life. John and Marcia decided to give their marriage another go. So we began that reasonably long journey of overcoming all the hurt, all the pain of a fragmented relationship.

Six months later, Marcia too embraced the christian faith, mainly because she could see how much it had changed John. That was more than 30 years ago, and they have continued to believe to this day (as far as I know).

John went on to become a barrister and then a Federal Court judge. Among his memorable moments as a judge was his delivery of a favourable native title judgment to the Ngurrara people of Australia’s Great Sandy Desert.

Reasons to believe

Critics of christianity often focus on whether there is a reasonable basis for christian belief. Often they mean by this scientific, repeatable or verifiable evidence. Personal experience doesn’t fulfil these requirements, some say, because it is subjective and unrepeatable – our brains can be easily fooled.

But almost everything we experience, including science, comes through our senses and into our minds. Very little of life is repeatable. If we can’t trust our experience ever, then how can we know anything?

So it is no surprise that John’s faith has remained strong over the past 30 years. He experienced God in an unexpected and unlikely way, and he has seen his own life, and his wife’s, change as a result. Believing in God works.

“For me it’s the difference between dark and light” John said.

A life well lived

John Gilmour died in February 2021. He remained a believer all his life.

Photo: Justice John Gilmour handing down the Nyikina Mangala native title determination at a sitting of the Federal Court Australia on the banks of the Fitzroy River (photo courtesy Australian Broadcasting Commission – the ABC conditions of use allow use of photos for private non-commercial use.

I found John’s story in the book Bright Lights, Dark Nights (2008) by Simon Smart.

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