The idea that good events (by our reckoning) are God’s blessing and bad events are his cursing is not new. Job and his counsellors argued both sides of this coin thousands of years ago, until God showed up to tell them their “coin” wasn’t big enough to handle his picture.
And Jesus’ words on the matter in the gospel of Luke 13:1-5 Should have put an end to this mindset long ago. But for whatever reason, it hasn’t.
Perhaps a more helpful way to put events like the Miracle on the Hudson into perspective is to consider three great laws that I believe govern our universe.
The writer of ecclesiastes says that “…time and chance overtake them all… (Ecc.9:11)” Sometimes life doesn’t unfold according to our expectations or comprehension. Some things are beyond our ability to foresee and control. We attribute these things to the Laws of Chance or coincidence. Why did the flock of geese happen to be in that spot at that time with that particular group of people on board that aircraft? We have no way to know, measure or control this.
But some things we can actually control or at least strongly influence. This we call the Law of Cause and Effect. Airlines invest millions of dollars in training pilots and flight attendants to deal with emergencies so they were able to rise to the demands of the occasion. Airliners are built to withstand bird impacts up to a certain point, so the Captain’s windshield was not destroyed and he was still able to see to land the plane. The aircraft remained controllable in the glide with dead engines because it was engineered to do so. When the fuselage hit the water, the care with which it was designed and built and Captain Sulley’s delicate and accurate guidance to the water’s surface helped keep it intact avoiding a catastrophic disintegration.
Cause and Effect. We do certain things and we get the expected outcomes. We are in control of some things.
The third law of the Universe that is always in effect is the Law of Love. The presence of love expresses itself in many ways. When the flock of birds smashed violently against the windshield and engines Captain Sulley maintained his composure and kept flying the stricken aircraft. Sometimes love is expressed as self-control.
When people on board the aircraft realised their fate, many turned to their neighbours with expressions of mutual compassion. Strangers held hands, or exchanged words of prayer and encouragement for what was about to happen. Sometimes love is expressed as kindness and compassion.
Onlookers from the shore, seeing the aircraft ditching, did not stand by and say, “Oh, look. I guess that is fate, or chance that these people are about to die in the river.” Nor did they say: “Oh, look! They’re getting what they deserve! Someone must have made some mistakes or screwed up and now the airplane is crashing in the river. It’s God’s Will. It serves them right!” Of course not.
Rather, most people immediately exercised grace. At least for a few moments they laid aside whatever other priorities they had that day and they ran to the aid of their fellow humans in need. Often at the risk of their own safety. A ferry boat full of passengers diverted to the stricken aircraft to help some escape the sinking plane. Local boat owners and ferry boats and rescue ships of all types moved in to help, not knowing if the aircraft might not suddenly sink or shift and take them down with it. Love is kindness, goodness and a desire to seek the good of others even at your own risk.
Meanwhile inside the aircraft, some passengers initially began to panic. But the firm words from the flight attendants and other passengers helped maintain calmness and cooperation as they exited the plane through frigid waters. Some even tried to ensure that a woman with a babe-in-arms would get rescued first. Love is peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control.
The bible lists some specific characteristics of the presence of God’s holy spirit. It specifically mentions love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, but I'm sure this list isn't meant to be exhaustive. Where-ever love expresses itself, God is near. Many of these attributes were obviously working in many of the passengers, crewmembers and rescuers. God was there. The Law of Love was in effect as people responded to an event was precipitated by chance, unfolded according to cause and effect, but was responded to in love. Love always has the final word.
When I fall, let it be somewhere where love and grace are close at hand.