Saturday, August 27, 2005

Separating the Sheep from the Gloats

Some 57 passengers walked away from a plane crash in Peru's Amazon jungle last week, while about 31 died. The newspaper where I work called it a "miracle."

Looking at the photographs of the crash site, I had to agree that it was a miracle that anyone survived. But calling it that seemed dissonant in light of the recent Air France flight that crash-landed in Toronto, where all the passengers and crew survived without serious injury. The Peru crash, by contrast, certainly wasn't a miracle to the families of the dead.

In that sense, The Raving Atheist makes an important point in his post "God Approves New Gloating Rules for Plane Crash Survivors." I believe, unlike him, that we should always thank God for delivering us out of troubles. But, as he suggests, that doesn't mean we should assume that He delivered us because of anything we did to deserve deliverance—or that those whom He did not deliver were somehow worse than us.

Jesus himself asserts some of the Raving Atheist's sentiments in Luke 13:1-5:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 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? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
Robert W. Martin has excellent observations on this topic in his essay "Jesus on Terrorism," which is worth reading in its entirety. In one section, he quotes R.C. Sproul:
In effect what Jesus was saying was this: "You people are asking the wrong question. You should be asking me, 'Why didn’t that tower fall on my head?'" Jesus rebuked the people for putting their amazement in the wrong place. In two decades of teaching theology I have had countless students ask me why God doesn’t save everybody. Only once did a student come to me and say, "There is something I just can’t figure out. Why did God redeem me?"
On another theological note, one aspect of the Peru plane-crash story that the news media neglected to mention is that the accident occurred on the feast day of St. Rose of Lima, Peru's patron saint.
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The Raving Atheist currently is soliciting answers to the question of whether the Devil, in operating Hell, is an agent of God—"the warden running God's prison." He seems genuinely curious—if you have an answer for him, respond in the comments section of his blog.