This is a difficult topic for me to talk about, for several reasons. I have no training, formal or otherwise, in philosophy or literature or arts of any sort (I have a graduate degree in Engineering if that helps hahahaha). I also do not want to be insensitive to the religions of anyone. But this topic is one that keeps coming up and it keeps sort of flitting around the edges of my consciousness, a minor annoyance that is accumulating, that I don't know how to reconcile it. Consider two worlds. World A and World B. World A maybe has a god, maybe doesn't. Plenty of people think it does, plenty of people think it doesn't. There is no first-hand evidence, there is only feelings and belief. Followers of this god purport to see his hand in everyday occurrences, in an indirect sort of way. God won't give you a sandwich by making one appear out of nowhere right in your hand, but when the circumstances of your life lead you to a sandwich, it was by his providence. World A has developed a whole theological language based on the notion that god has a hand in everything without actually showing his hand at any time. World B has real gods with evidence and everything. You can't go and visit them, but you can go on a day trip and visit with people who have spent centuries in their company - you're one degree of Kevin Bacon away from actual real genuine gods with actual real genuine supernatural powers. There isn't anyone with any level or training or experience who doubts their existence, the same way I personally don't doubt the existence of say David Beckham or Benjamin Franklin. World B has absolutely no need for the theological language developed by World A. Trying my best not to belittle anyone's beliefs, there is a world of difference in the language and expectations between hoping for "a present from Santa" and "a present from Auntie Laura in California". At the end of the day, I am.... curious, in an uneducated and grasping sort of way, with Gandalf (especially) using the sort of language that would be more appropriate for a world where he personally hadn't spent uncounted ages in direct personal contact with whichever of Valar you like (and even Illuvatar himself). The whole "meant to find it" sort of thing, all the chance-meeting stuff, etc. In a world where the only way your god interacts with the world is in a second-hand indirect sort of way, Gandalf meeting Thorin in Bree can be appropriately described as god's will. In a world where Manwe can send an actual physical Eagle to carry the Ring to Mordor (but totally doesn't for reasons), this sort of indirect influence is... harder to accept as a given. This sort of undetectable behind-the scenes tweaking of probabilities and influencing of minor decisions and random factors to lead to a providential encounter is not really the sort of thing you'd expect from Valar as presented in the Silmarillion. I suppose you can shift all of that to Illuvatar rather than the Valar, but a) it's really just the same issue only popped up a level and b) that's not the tone of what we're actually given.