So I was watching next-day coverage of the Hudson River airplane crash on CNN today and at some point one of the anchors brings up God and says something to the effect, “And if you’re not already religious, something like this may make you believe.”
And it made me wonder,
IS THIS PROOF OF GOD??
Well, of course not.
Look, what happened in New York yesterday was amazing. I’ll go even so far as to call it a miracle, in the sense that the very happy outcome was also a very unlikely one (although this fascinating and potentially useful Time article says a surprisingly high 76% of passengers in serious plane accidents survive).
But it’s another thing entirely to believe that God was responsible for what transpired, that He or She or It was the reason why the 155 people aboard USAir Flight 1549 survived yesterday’s crash.
First of all, that kind of blind faith minimizes the heroics of the people involved in yesterday’s events – the pilot who steered an engine-less plane safely into the middle of a river in one of the country’s most populous metropolitan areas, the passengers and crew who took charge of the plane’s evacuation, the ferry boat operators and other good Samaritans who helped in the rescue effort.
Secondly, if we are to give credit to God for yesterday’s good news, mustn’t that mean we also hold him responsible for all the crappy things that happen in this world. If we are to say that for some reason God thought those 155 people yesterday were worthy of being saved, then we must also admit that God thought all 230 people on TWA Flight 800, and all 1,836 people in Hurricane Katrina, and all 2,974 people in the 9/11 attack, and all 225,000 people in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and all 6 million people in the Holocaust, that God thought all of them deserved to die (of course, some evangelicals have argued just that – that these tragedies have all served some sort of divine purpose).
Don’t get me wrong: It’s nearly as tough for me to understand how someone can be an atheist, certain of God’s absence, as it is to understand how someone can be just as certain that there is a God (and even more incredibly, that they know what such a God is like). As far as I’m concerned, the Hudson River Airplane Miracle is no more evidence that God exists than the picture of the two towers above is proof that He doesn’t. But I’d venture to say that if you were to line up all the wonderful miracles that occur in this world alongside all the awful tragedies that happen, the list would be overwhelmed by the depressing side of the ledger.
But true believers have an easy, pat response when a seemingly incomprehensible tragedy occurs: “God works in mysterious ways.” I’ve heard people say that all the time to mourners who have watched their children die or suffered some other overwhelming loss, and the insensitivity of the sentiment astounds me.
If it gives comfort to you to think that there is a just and merciful God out there who has a plan for each and every one of us – a plan that we will never in our earthly existence fully understand but one that may at times require the deaths of innocent infants, the destruction of entire cities and the occasional systematic slaughter of millions of citizens – then who am I to take away your comfort and solace?? I cannot prove otherwise.
But as for me, I’ll stick with what I know. That life is usually short and sometimes sweet. It is precious and precarious. That bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. That for no other reason than there is already enough pain and suffering in this world, that I must do what I can to balance out the scales – by enjoying myself while I’m alive and able, by spreading joy and love to others, by being grateful for the blessings I have … and by celebrating happy moments like yesterday’s miracle, without ascribing to it some kind of divine meaning.