Got a question recently from one of my good pals the other day. He’s an atheist. He asked me what kind of God would allow a Boeing full of people to disappear, creating pain and heartache for the families. Needless to say, this is a popular question and one of the reasons why many ‘free-thinkers’ view religious faith to be as valid as believing in unicorns.
Many assume that if God cares about us, He wouldn’t let bad things happen to us. The fact that incidents like MH370 occur means either that God doesn’t care or He’s powerless to do anything or, better yet (and how convenient), He doesn’t exist.
I’ll skip to the chase: I don’t believe God caused or willed the MH370 tragedy. I don’t even think He allowed it to happen “for reasons of His own”. This is to take a low view of His kindness and love. God has obviously planned many things but we have no warrant to conclude that everything is divinely pre-set.
God is good and has He’s made some A+ stuff, e.g. the Malaysian Peninsular, Klang river in its original state, metal for our iPhones, and the human freedom to do whatever the hell we want.
God decided that the sun would rise east and set west. He’s also put a moon up there so we save on bulbs. But if Donald Rumsfeld and his golf buddies enjoy lighting up the Iraqi night sky with missiles and bombs, that’s hardly God’s doing.
God loves us. God decided that men and women would have hands that can operate on chicken chops, and legs that work when the lifts don’t. God has even opted that whenever we answer nature’s call, it’s usually pleasurable (instead of the opposite). He also insists that we think before we speak. But if people like the Perkasa leaders and its patrons regularly talk like they arrived in Malaysia before the first bacteria, this is surely not within God’s design.
God is very serious about people forgiving one another, especially those they would never befriend on Facebook. That our species in general has thrashed this mandate is a statement about human nature and the kind of freedom God has granted us to exercise in a manner He hopes we will.
What’s the relevance of all this to MH370? Clearly, the nature of the question – “Why does God let/cause bad things happen?” – is flawed. Bad things, from the lack of parking at 1 Utama to world hunger to MH370, point more to human failure and frailty and less to divine enterprise.
Human freedom is real so there is totally no need to attribute a tragedy like MH370 to the ‘will of God’. To be sure, God has willed MANY things but to say that He wills ALL things (including the exact RM1 chicken that Najib held up during his campaign) is not only weird theology, it’s bad anthropology.
“Okay. Maybe God did not ‘choose’ this tragedy, but He surely could have stopped it, right? Why didn’t He? What specific reasons were on His mind?”
Again, I wonder if that’s even a right question.
Billions of people perform trillions of mistakes or crimes everyday. For some reason, God almost never ‘deletes’ these acts by fiat. And what kind of world would it be if God did that? What kind of world would we have if each time a rude email was to be sent, the ‘Send’ button disappears? Would we really want mosquitoes with insights into the ethical background of their would-be victims prior to biting them? Should all cigarettes and alcohol be enchantingly sucked down to hell next week, since it will clearly prevent so many lung problems and car crashes? In this kind of world, even office meetings could become non-stop fun?
I say and do stupid hurtful things regularly. But instead of frying my brain cells the two micro-moments before I act like an idiot, God usually lets me misbehave, hoping that the repercussions will teach me to act more maturedly. There is no ‘specific reason’ why I am allowed to be rude to those who love me – I am just irresponsibly exercising my freedom.
Human freedom is real and, from the looks of it? It’s irrevocable, too.
Every Chinese New Year hundreds of people die in highway accidents. But instead of cosmically terminating Gong Xi Fa Cai from the world’s collective memory or magically making every Malaysian motorist drive at 10KM per hour, God decides to work through people’s sense of safety, traffic police, warning signs and so on. There is no ‘specific reason’ why a Toyota and a lorry may collide – badly driven vehicles, the laws of physics and poor roads are reasons enough.
Again, there are no ‘specific reasons’ why bad things happen. As if God is the kind of Being who MUST plan out every tragedy for reasons only He can know.
So what happened to MH370? I think the media has given us a HDD load of speculations: cockpit fire, decompression, terrorist, co-pilot scandal, pilot schemes, Asian Bermuda triangle, aliens, government conspiracy, etc. We don’t have to add “God’s mysterious reason” to this list.
Because God’s power, in addition to what He can do, is also witnessed in what He does not do.
If God were to intervene in all risky/dangerous/evil cases, our world may be less painful and vulnerable than it actually is, but it would also be far less beautiful and orderly. It would not be a world worth defending as there really wouldn’t be anything to defend against. It would be a world devoid of that crazy little thing called love, which we only recognise as part and parcel of the ability to choose not to love.
God is love. To love is to make a decision to be exposed to the kind of world we have. To expect miraculous interventions on-demand is another way of asking for a different world, a world without risk, with no freedom; a world without world.
God is love. He’s created people who care for strangers. There is surely something quietly and humbly powerful about a whole nation united in prayer for missing passengers. Doesn’t this give fresh meaning to the phrase ‘God is power’?
Whatever happened or happens to MH370, Malaysians will always need more of a God of strange power and wonderous love. Amin.