Not too long ago I received a well-intentioned email from a friend who is a devout Christian. It was one of those treacly things about how God is always watching over us, in matters small, and great.
The theme of this particular message was about individuals who might have died on 9/11/01 but for happenstance. Here’s a sample of the things that prevented a small group of people from being in the wrong place at the wrong time:
…the head of a company survived 9/11 because his son started kindergarten.
Another fellow was alive because it was his turn to bring donuts.
One woman was late because her alarm clock didn’t go off in time.
One was late because of being stuck on the NJ Turnpike because of an auto accident.
You get the gist. Just another day, with its random (or not) intersections of events. But this message concludes with this thought, that these events are not at all random:
Next time your morning seems to be going wrong, the children are slow getting dressed, you can’t seem to find the car keys, you hit every traffic light, don’t get mad or frustrated; God is at work watching over you.
Now that’s nice work if you can get it: God at work “watching over you.” This is a school of belief in some Christian circles. That God is a personal God, a kind of celestial butler, who takes care of your every need and keeps you out of harm’s way. I suppose that it’s a small leap from Buddy Christ to God the Butler.
This kind of piety makes me sick unto puking. Does anyone truly think that those who did not make their appointed rounds with death, by sheer happenstance, were any more worthy than the 3,000 or so that did die that heinous day? Well, the usual answer by the pious crowd is the unanswerable “God works in mysterious ways.”
Look, I happen to believe that God exists, and that he is the alpha and the omega. As for everything in between the beginning and end, it is simply beyond reason to think that those who lived but should have died on 9/11 have some special purpose in God’s plan. Or that those who died are, as well, simply filling their assigned roles in that plan. Assuming such a plan exists in the first place.
I believe that God’s given us the keys to the place while the big guy is off on some cosmic beach doing his thing. The nine-dollar term for those keys? Free will. Those who died on 9/11 were killed by terrorists that we were unable to detect and stop in time.
It is always on us that anyone dies “before their time” (another holdover from a more pious age) of anything but old age. Crime victim? We, i.e. our society, did not catch the criminal in time. Malnutrition? We did not assure that all have sufficient food. Flood victims? Why do we allow idiots to build homes in flood plains, anyway? And the list is endless…
Those who lived through 9/11 by accident, as it were? Lucky. No cosmic plan. Am I certain? Not quite 100%; it is possible that God selected those whose schedules were disrupted, and who survived. Possible; in the same sense as it is possible that all the oxygen molecules in the room I am in could, through random motion, cluster in one corner while I suffocate to death.
This all gets perilously close to theodicy, an attempt to explain why a loving God allows any and all of these heinous things to happen. I don’t have an authoritative answer, all I have is a theory: that God will always hear our prayers, and grant them. Just not in the way we might have thought was best for us.