Just days after AirAsia Flight QZ8501 went down in Malaysia, apparently killing all 162 passengers and crew aboard, we started seeing stories about a few families who had
. One family did not get the phone calls and emails that Air Asia left them, telling them that the flight would leave 2 hours early. Another family's dad got hepatitis, so the whole family skipped the flight.
When the flight went down, these folks naturally thought themselves to have been spared by cosmic forces.
It was no stroke of luck but an act of God that her father caught hepatitis, said Inge Goreti Ferdiningsih, because it made her family cancel their tickets on the AirAsia flight a day before it took off. "We are extremely grateful, and God is really great," she said. "I believe that God is saving and protecting us, and this is truly a miracle."
If it were my family, I would probably say the same thing. And who's to say I would be wrong? A universe with an all-powerful deity can surely bend the laws of nature and happenstance if he wills, right? He can give those hepatitis germs a green light to infect old dad, hoping that the rest of the family will take the hint and stay behind.
But what of the vast majority of families who lost loved ones? Were they insufficiently worthy of God's attention? Did they not merit a saving disease? Or did the Lord give them a nudge of their own, which they chose to ignore? Did they therefore get what they deserved, the lousy sinners? Or were their deaths required to fulfill God's mighty and noble plan?
Depending on your beliefs about God's control over the universe, you may come up with different answers. If you (like many Christians) believe that God is completely in charge of every event n the cosmos -- or as Jesus said in
Matthew 10:29-31, "
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
then you'll have to react as though every saved life, and every doomed one, was God's doing.
On the other hand, if you believe that events happen for no particular reason -- as Jesus said in Luke 13:4, "Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?" -- then you will feel less of a need to drag God into the messy affairs of nature and mechanical failure. That's a great stance for atheists, who don't believe in a moral behind every air crash or earthquake.
But that stance, which is the one I lean toward, is a little harder to square with belief in God. It suggests a God who is really not in control of the universe, but who stands by for some reason, allowing the laws of physics, chemistry and chance to hold sway.And that raises a host of difficult questions. Does God stand by because he wants us to deal with things on our own -- the way a parent teaching a kid to ride a bike would tolerate falls and scrapes to teach the kid to ride without help? Or does he stand by because, though he might
to save, he does not have the actual ability to do it? That option flies in the face of lots of theology about God being all-powerful and desiring to save. As P
puts it (apropos of the latest disaster): "
Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me."
Or perhaps God is only present in the aftermath, healing hearts and soothing spirits, leading the grieving from death toward life. Seems like too little, too late.
I don't think I could fault a believer from picking any of these options. But the possibility that even a loving God might be unwilling or unable to intervene in our affairs should prompt us to act in his stead. By tuning our hearts and our technology toward saving our neighbors from avoidable tragedy. By developing systems that prevent fallible human minds from missing critical safety steps. By ensuring the proper oversight that keeps the lazy or the greedy or the just plain exhausted from stinting on the safety measures that save lives.
One thing is sure: if we leave our work for God to do, it will not get done. Like a parent of a teenager, he will not pick up our dirty socks for us, but he will leave it to us to wallow in our self-created filth. For those who lose loved ones in hurricanes, fires, plagues or plane crashes, this is a very tough love. But how else to guide us to love our neighbor than to put the onus completely on us? God has given us his direction: love your neighbor as ourselves. It's up to us to make that a reality.