Editorial: The hand of God?
This week – as I write – in 1945, the place where I work was hit by a V2 flying bomb. The rocket directly hit a three-storey house; and, as well as neighbouring houses, the blast wrecked Presbyterian Church House, a school of medicine and the Builder’s Arms. A hospital was just outside the blast.
Ten people who were working in Church House were killed: eight men and two women. They included the General Secretary and Assistant General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of England, the Financial Secretary and the Secretary for Missions. With bitter irony, the number of casualties was increased by the fact the building was hosting a conference of the British Council of Churches’ Department of International Friendship. The Moderator of General Assembly was spared, turning up 15 minutes late for the meeting. He told the newspapers he ‘prides himself on his punctuality, and was late because of a chain of circumstances’.
The hand of God? That is how it can feel when you have a near miss. But to try to trace the designs of providence through a conflict that killed 60 million people would be a path to madness. At least 34 people were killed in this one blast, among the countless thousands; these included three cases where a husband lost both wife and child at once. Those who died ranged from two year olds to septuagenarians. When so many deaths are being caused so brutally and arbitrarily, there will also be a lot of narrow escapes. The question why some people are spared is maths, not theology.
Or so it seems to me. And yet I also want to rejoice and give thanks for every life that avoids being cut short. To see life win, to see a person escape, even amid so much slaughter – it really doesn’t seem enough to me to say: ‘Well, that was lucky.’ I want to give thanks. There is enough ungraciousness in the world, and in me, and I think a thankful heart is the source of health, wholeness and goodness.
How can I not be grateful that I live in a time and place where offices are not hit by bombs? What kind of person would I be if I couldn’t say thank you, reflecting on how my own children slept soundly throughout their childhood, without being buried in rubble?
It’s a complete contradiction, I think. I cannot believe that God determines who lives and who dies and this is the best he can come up with. And I cannot believe I should look at peace and life without gratitude. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense, I fear, but it’s where I am. Here I stand, I can no other, so thank you God.
This article was published in the March 2020 edition of Reform