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Reflecting on the Minneapolis bridge tragedy, Minnesotan Tim Drake finds himself tempted to ask “Where Was God?” — but finds the answer before the question is fully formed.
BY Tim Drake
Like most Minnesotans, I had crossed the Interstate 35W
bridge in Minneapolis countless times. So when I first heard of the bridge’s
collapse, I was filled with shock, numbness and concern for the victims.
Later I realized that the disaster also raised the usual
post-tragedy questions for me. Why did some people have to die while others
were spared? What separated the seriously injured from the unscathed? Where is
God in all of this?
You might say that, although I am a man of faith, I looked
at the horror of the situation — and blinked.
If you, too, struggle to find meaning in such situations,
you would do well to pick up Thornton Wilder’s 1927 Pulitzer-winning novel The
Bridge of San Luis Rey. It tells the story of a Franciscan missionary, Brother
Juniper, who witnesses the collapse of a Peruvian bridge. Five people die.
Brother Juniper sets out to answer the big “Why?” raised by the tragedy.
The book, Wilder said, grew out of an argument he’d had with
his father. The elder Wilder, a Calvinist, saw God as a strict judge who
carefully weighs guilt against merit. Wilder the younger felt that such a view
overlooked, or sold short, the power of God’s love.
Just so, the modern tendency is to present a
rather one-sided view of God, exaggerating either his justice or his
mercy. There’s often a failure to recognize that, in God, the two are not in
conflict but perfectly balanced.
Many Americans also cling to unrealistic expectations about
the physical world around us. We’ve come to count on society to protect us from
every risk to our health and safety. When some element of “the system” fails,
our attorneys stand at the ready.
In a recent Sunday Gospel reading, Christ reminded us to be
faithful, vigilant and prudent, for, “at an hour you do not expect, the Son of
Man will come” (Luke 12:40).
We might call this to mind when the next tragedy strikes —
as it inevitably will. It’s true that, as one of our senators said, a bridge in
America just shouldn’t fall down without warning. Yet, in a world marred by sin
and imperfection, bridges will fall, mines will collapse and airplanes will
crash. Accidents will happen.
The good news is that, in the fullness of time, God’s love
will overcome all evil.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be
no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed
away” (Revelation 21:4).
In the final passage of Wilder’s book, he quotes an abbess
who runs an orphanage in Peru and knew some of the people on the fated bridge.
“But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will
have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and
forgotten,” he writes. “But the love will have been enough; all those impulses
of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for
love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is
love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
God was at the I-35 bridge. He was there in the bystanders
who ran to help the victims and comfort the dying. He was there in the
emergency responders who risked their own lives to save the lives of strangers.
And he’s there still, thanks in some mysterious way to our prayers.
Let us not fail to commend to God the victims of this tragedy
and the tragedies to come. In this we will see our faith standing up to death —
and not blinking.
Tim Drake, the Register’s
senior writer, lives in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.