On a Wing and a Prayer

on Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eastcoastdweller posted a few weeks ago about the plane that crashed into the icy Hudson River in USA but in which miraculously all passengers and crew survived. In his post, he responded to the outpouring of opinion in the media that the hands of God was protecting that plane and its occupants. He was uncomfortable with that notion and asked, "Why would an impartial God save one plane and allow another to crash?"

It is a very good question because clearly planes crash (although the airplane industry keeps reminding us that we are more likely to die in a car crash going to the airport than in a plane crash). Do we accept that God intervened to save those in the Hudson River crash? Then, what do we tell the relatives of a more recent crash that killed 50 people; that God did not find their loved ones worth saving?

I have pondered about this question before in a different context. I have seen friends whose recovery from terminal cancer baffle doctors and who give thanks to God for the miracle. However, I have also witnessed friends die painfully with their prayers for healing apparently unheeded.

I may not have the answer but here are some of my thoughts;

1. Death and taxes.
We all die eventually. Only Jesus makes the claim of having risen from the dead. No one else in history makes that claim. The reality is that humans all die. If we recognise that, then we recognise that God will not always intervene. If He always intervened, we would never, never die as long as we keep asking for His help. That would be a strange world. One could do every dangerous thing like base jumping or juggling chain-saws and know if we got into a life-threatening situation, God would intervene. Then we would live in a world free from consequences of our actions.

2. Not because they were better or worse.
If we accept that God does not always intervene, then we will realise that the passengers of the plane that perished may not be better or worse than those in the plane that survived. When applied to terminally ill patients it can be so cruel. Imagine being told that God has not answered your prayers for healing because you are not good enough or you do not have enough faith. Instead, God intervenes only when He wants and according to His plan.

3. Jesus' example.
In the Gospels, we read of Jesus performing many miracles and healings but an important point to note is that he did not heal all. Sometimes, even when there were still more to be healed, he retreats from the crowd and goes away. The bible makes it clear that our time on earth is temporary and after that our soul faces eternity. Jesus (and therefore God) is more interested in saving our eternal soul than saving our temporal bodies.

4. Example of the Apostles.
In the Book of Acts, we read how God again and again rescued apostles from prison and execution. Yet eventually most of them would be killed for their faith and they expected it. So God can act miraculously at one point in our lives and not deliver us at another. Stephen was killed early on while others were being saved but God was pleased with Stephen. It was not because Stephen had annoyed God that God let him die. Rather Stephen prays for God to receive his spirit.

5. Earth versus Heaven
Christians believe that Heaven is a far better place than Earth. If we truly believe this, we would desire to be in heaven with God. If God intervenes and delays our death, we might even ask, why aren't you allowing me to enter heaven yet?

6. God's sovereign and mysterious will.
In the end, why does God chose to save one and not the other or why He saves at one instant and not another? Who are we to ask God to explain Himself? Surely, His ways are higher than ours and we would not understand. But I believe, God does spare some people because they are to do something important or have a role to play that will bring benefit to others and glory to God in accordance with His plan. God even allowed Jesus to die painfully and in humiliation because He had an important and wonderful plan of salvation to accomplish.

Those are just some thoughts. Have you asked the same question? What answers did you consider?


On a limb with Claudia said...

Gosh, thanks for tackling this difficult topic. I got really stuck on this when I was in high school.

Personally, I don't think that God see us as 'human' but rather as our essence or soul. Living/dying isn't an issue to God but an issue related to this earth and this plane. We are more than this body, more than our concept of soul even - and that's what God protects unless we choose to let go of our goodness.

((hug)) I'm so glad you live in this time and that we know each other.

Ruth W. said...

Excellent views on a difficult subject. Thanks Calvin, I'll be pondering on this!!

Joyce's Ramblings said...

All I can say is God had a plan. We can't understand it and I could not explain it. Too many times I have asked WHY? All I know is this that when I leave this earth I will go to a better place and then I may get some answers. My faith gives me peace.

Marja said...

I asked this question often but I think you are on the right track.
Some have a task to fulfill here and others soul goes somewhere else

geewits said...

Like one of your points, I don't believe God has much to do with day-to-day stuff. And that's where the plane crashes fall. Those were just random things. Even large death tolls by natural disasters are just that - natural. The ones to look at are like you said - when cancer goes away or someone's parachute fails and they live to walk away. Those are the ones to make you think. As far as unusual or untimely deaths go, I would think Christians would also feel that that person was special instead of railing against God.

the walking man said...

I believe and know that God is ever present throughout every moment in my life, that is faith, but I answer the question thus:

"...That through death, he defeated him who holds the power of death, that is the devil..."

While I am not concerned with the things of satan nor when I will die, I wish people would quit laying death, any death on God. It is not in his purview.

God has made the only life, the life He, Himself knows, available to mankind. What more can He do? Although defeated, for the present in time, Satan obviously still has authority in this existence.

Anonymous said...

I think we humans can not realize what GOd is, because it is totally different, totaliter aliter. If we could we would have a divine-like streak in us, in a way we would be god-like, but we are not, we are and stay humans. As humans we life a live of uncertainity and hurtfulness. The only thing that is sure is that our days here are numbered, we will die. And we have to deal with that monstrosity of personal death. AS Joyce says I hope that some questions will be answered then.
I do not believe that God interferes with daily human affairs. We are here to use our brains. And if we take risks voluntarily, why should the Great Divine Creator take it away from one - and not the other one? That would be divine injustice.
What we see on earth are human actions, it's human behaviour, techniques, emotions, creation if you like. I only hope that the primus movens did not turn way from his children completely.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for the hug and the gracious words. To have a strong faith in God requires to be ready to ask the difficult questions and not avoid them. I think God does see and care for our physical state (Jesus wept at the news of Lazarus death) but His perspective is eternal and his emphasis is for our soul as you said.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Being in healthcare, you have seen a lot of suffering as well as joy in your interactions with patients. I would be interested in your views.

I am glad that you have that peace from faith. Accepting God's will and that God knows what is best for us is very reassuring. The confidence of going to heaven to be with Him should excite Christians. Death where is thy sting.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

God has a plan and purpose for each of us if we let Him. I agree that He may intervene sometimes but it will be according to that plan.

I agree. We just need to take an extreme example of jumping of a building. The natural law of gravity will make us splat on the pavement. God has the power to intervene but clearly if we jump just to test God, do we really expect Him to save us? But I think God does care about our daily lives but He is also able to make use of non-supernatural means to guide us most of the time.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thank you for raising the issue that Satan is at work and this is his world. A very important point. Instead of blaming God for not saving everyone (which is ridiculous) we should actually be thankful that occasionally God does intervene and saves us from our earthly fates.

Jesus has already defeated Satan and death. O death where is thy sting. This victory gives us a hope for an eternity with God. Again the perspective and importance is eternal rather than temporal.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

"we humans can not realize what GOd is" is a very profound statement which immediately recognises that we cannot fully understand God or His plans; nor should we be so presumptuous as to assume to question God's fairness or wisdom because His ways are beyond us. Just as someone viewing the earth from a space station has a completely different view to someone just looking down from a hilltop. But the Bible has examples of God's intervention in the life of man and I believe He still does so today but it is the exception rather the norm.

Jocelyn said...

I appreciate the use of faith to explore subtleties. Too often what frustrates me about people's faith is the black-and-white nature of it, such as "good = life" and "bad = death."

I'm not sure such easy demarcations are the point.

Anonymous said...

G.Ch. Lichtenberg, a mathematician and philosopher of the 18th century wrote once:

"It is a great loss for a human, if he looses the idea / the belief ["Überzeugung", see below] of / in a wise entity who gubernates the world.
I believe that this is the necessary result of all study of philosophy and nature. One does NOT loose the belief in a God, but it is no longer the helpful God of our childhood; it is a being whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and that is no real help for the helpless."

"Es ist ein großer Verlust für den Menschen, wenn er die Überzeugung von einem weisen die Welt lenkenden Wesen verloren hat. Ich glaube, es ist eine notwendige Folge alles Studiums der Philosophie und der Natur. Man verliert zwar den Glauben an einen Gott nicht, aber es ist nicht mehr der hülfreiche Gott unserer Kindheit; es ist ein Wesen, dessen Wege nicht unsere Wege und dessen Gedanken nicht unsere Gedanken sind, und damit ist dem Hülflosen nicht sonderlich viel gedient."

There is a logical break in my first post - God can not be in-just if he can not be measured by human scales. And we humans have not found a common rule about what is justice. We are forced to live in relativity.

Robinhood said...

The Bible say that we will know all when we get to heaven, all questions will be answered, however I believe that once we get there we will assimulate all thew knowledge that we desire to have. In 38 years in Law Enforcement I found questions such as this answered in as there was always a purpose served by either the death or the saved life. This answer did not necessarly present its self immedatly and most often took some, How much time :) . I accept this as the answer.

Cheryl said...

I can't think of a better way of looking at this often asked question. For the souls of the second plane, it was their time. Your explanation makes perfect sense to me.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I believe that we come back over and over until we are perfect, and that in each lifetime we have specific lessons to learn. God (or the universe) gives us the experiences we need to learn those lessons and when our work is completed, our soul moves on.

What is relevant is not whether God saves one while allowing another to die, but whether they have learned the lessons they intended to learn in this lifetime.

geewits said...

I don't think that God cares about our daily lives. I think God cares that WE care about our daily lives. Do you see the difference?

Jo said...

"Who are we to ask God to explain Himself?" That is a good question. I would also like to know who God is... We can rationalize about Him when we don't have the answers -- and we usually don't have the answers.

I wish I had faith in God like everyone else does, but I really have yet to see a God that is not capricious. How can we worship a God that is so capricious!? If we worked for a boss who treated us like that, or one of our parents, wouldn't we be just a little bit resentful? Treatment like that from anyone else would be considered psychological abuse. So why do we permit it from God? Would an all-loving, all-kind, all-caring God really do that? And if so, why?

It makes absolutely no sense to me.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Life is a mystery indeed. Sometimes mankind tends to simplify things too much (as you say, life=good). Other times we tend to make things too complex. I hope that we all get to understand life before too much of it has passed.

There is a concept of "natural law" which implies that all of us have a common understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Even anarchists who do not believe in law and government gets angry if someone steals their goat! Why should they if there is no natural law? I agree with Lichtenberg except when he says that there is no real help for the helpless. There is help but it will never be enough in this world to eliminate all suffering.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for sharing from your experience. It is encouraging that you have seen purpose in the life and death encounters that you have come across.

Thank you for your comment. I am glad you found my thoughts on the matter makes sense. I don't know if it really is the best answer but for now it makes sense to me too.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

The idea of coming back again and again and that each lifetime is to learn a specific lesson is clearly a comforting one. It is like being in the University of Life but if you fail an exam, all you need to do is re-sit the next year and you can take as many re-sits as you need. But I suspect, it is more like the real life University where you may have a chance to re-sit but there is always a time limit. These thoughts of returning are very much in the thinking of Buddhism. Buddhists (and Hindus)believe that what you return as is dependent on your karma. If you haven't learnt your lesson and your have bad karma, you return as a lesser living organism. Suffering is part of the purification and learning of the lesson. Hence, many Buddhists would not help a war refugee (for example) because they view suffering as part of the natural process which the person earned in his last life and therefore there is no reason to intervene to end that suffering. It is a strange but logical extension of that belief.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I understand what you say but I have to differ in that I do believe God does care about our daily lives. I see this in the bible (Jesus wept) and in my own experience. However, it does not always have to be in miraculous and supernatural ways.

There is a story of a man who believed that God would protect him so when his town was flooded, he did not worry but climbed on to the roof of his house and waited for God to miraculously save him.

So when a neighbour offered to evacuate him in his big 4WD vehicle, he declined, saying"God will save me". The waters rose and a man in a rowboat came by an offered to rescue him and he declined saying"God will save me". The water kept rising. Next a sheriff dept launch came by. But his response was the same. The water kept rising. Then a helicopter came but again he refused to leave. Finally the waters rose and he drowned.

Later in heaven, he confronted God saying, "I believed that you would save me. Why didn't you save me?"

God replied, "I sent you a 4WD, a rowboat, a Sheriff Dept launch and a helicopter, why did you not want to be saved!"

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I guess when we think that God is capricious, we are wondering why God is allowing suffering in the world. But yet we seem comfortable with the concept of an uncaring God that does not interfere with man. I like to turn it the other way, suffering is in the world because of Man. Without God's intervention, all are lost but with it, at least some will be saved and in the context of the God of the bible, being saved is in the spiritual and eternal context and not the physical and temporal one.

Robinhood said...

Religion is an act of Faith. Pure acceptance of what the "religion" professes. With Christianity the act of faith is the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior, at he came and DIED for our SINS, And when You accept him into your heart, YOU KNOW IT IS TRUE. There is absolutely NO DOUBT That he died for us ALL !
For by Grace are you saved through faith, NOT by works, it is a GIFT of GOD, so that NO man may Boast.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten SON, That whom so ever believes in shall not parish but have ever lasting LIFE. For God sent his SON into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.

It is impossible for man to obtain salvation under the law of Moses, or any other “LAW” as far as that goes and Jesus presented Himself as our sacrificial lamb !

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