Monday, February 16, 2009

Where Was God in Buffalo?

A few weeks ago my brother, who is a World-Class Forwarder, sent me an editorial cartoon drawn by Rex Babin that depicted the plane that safely landed in the Hudson River being held in the hands of God. I posted it here because I thought it was a striking and timely image, but made no comment about it.

Several weeks later, comments to that post continued in. Now, in the right-this-minute blogosphere, it is most unusual to get comments on month-old posts. Wondering where these comments were coming from, I checked the sitemeter and found that QG was getting linked in Google searches for this graphic. Not only that, but the hits on the blog were dramatically up. Clearly this picture touched the hearts of many people.

Eventually an anonymous commenter questioned the theology behind the cartoon: "The problem with declaring this a miracle and thanking God is that there is also the temptation to blame God the next time something goes terribly wrong and ask why God did not intervene."

After the tragic plane crash in Buffalo, NY, last Thursday night, another comment was posted: "Carm from Buffalo would like to know where GOD's hands were Thursday night at 10:20 PM when Continental Flight 3407 smashed into a residential home killing 50 people.

The anonymous poster's prescient remarks came before the plane crash in Buffalo. "Carm" no doubt speaks for many who wonder where God was when that plane crashed Thursday night. This is one of the great questions of faith. If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why doesn't God prevent tragedy to innocent people?

I don't believe that we will ever know the complete answer to that question in this life. Maybe the the survivors of the Hudson River accident were saved because the pilot was more skilled, experienced and calm in the face of danger. But I don't know that is the case. Maybe no human skill could have saved those who perished in the Buffalo tragedy. Maybe the "Miracle on the Hudson" is just that. A miracle.

My response to these comments is that I do not believe that God abandons us in the midst of tragedy nor that because I do not understand why God permits suffering to continue, God does not exist. That is not to say that I don't get mad at God for permitting suffering and injustice--especially when it involves those I love. I do try to trust that God's ways are not my ways and that God knows the plans he has for us--to prosper us and not to do us harm, to give us hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11).

I liked the Babin drawing because it reminded me of the spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands". Since the Buffalo plane crash, though, I think it would have been better if the drawing had the title: "In Life and In Death We Belong To God." (A quote from the The Brief Statement of Faith, PCUSA Book of Confessions.)


Gannet Girl said...

I was not your anonymous commenter, but her/his words were the ones that came immeduately to mind when I saw the cartoon the first time. I have thought of that cartoon many times since the Buffalo accdent, and about the pain it must have brought to the Buffalo families. They must be wondering, as we all do, why the one person whose health, safety, travel, etc. was prayed for is safe at home and the other is not. And we have no answer beyond the one given in Job of an accompanying God who often seems absent even in presence.

John Edward Harris said...

Like you I prefer "In Life and In Death We Belong To God." Where was God in Buffalo? To paraphrase Elie Wiesel, "God was on the plane." Where is God now? God is in the homes and hearts of those who turn to God for solace and meaning in an often capricious and perhaps meaningless world. God is in the questioning of those who doubt and wonder.

leah johnson said...

I received the drawing this morning and wondered how to respond. Now I know "in life and in death we belong to God" indeed and the hands of God were enfolding those in Buffalo just as they were in NYCity earlier. Do we know why the result of the crash was different? No...but what we know is "in life and in death we belong to God."

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

I think that you did a very good job in explaining things QG.