Yesterday, August 1st at 6:05 pm, an extended section of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota suddenly collapsed, sending dozens of vehicles, together with their drivers and passengers, plunging into the Mississippi River. The images yesterday were of emergency personnel and citizens on the scene scrambling amid the tons of twisted metal and broken concrete to rescue survivors.
Today, the images and commentary in the news are different. Various local, state and federal officials are appearing on camera to pledge material support and vowing to find answers to the engineering and administrative questions. Anguished family members are being interviewed as they wait for word on loved ones who did not return home last night and have not called. Reporters’ commentary has shifted from rescue to talk of safe recovery of bodies and there is a general dread that the victim count–remarkably low to this point–is poised to rise.
Invariably, amid the words and images of the media, a few sound bites will be given over to theological reflection. Much of the theology will be, at best, unhelpful and some of it will be downright bad.
Some pundits will challenge God’s greatness–where was He when the bridge went down, claiming the innocents? They will accuse God of either sleeping on the job or not really being in charge. Others will challenge God’s goodness, concluding from the collapse and a superabundance of other tragedies the world over that such a malignant world must be overseen by an equally malignant God. Yet others will risk accusations of callous heartlessness by exploring the dangerous territory of particular human deserving. Far too many, sadly, will simply dismiss the God question as antiquated, naive and irrelevant.
Jesus was pressed by contemporaries in his day for a theological sound bite in a similar situation (Luke 13:1-9). His response was interesting. He questioned neither the goodness nor the greatness of God. These were givens. While He forcefully resisted the notion of being able to assign greater or lesser guilt to individuals on the basis of what happened to them, he was equally adamant that there are no innocents on the road, notwithstanding human assessments. Everyone is a sinner, he asserted.
What was Jesus’ advice? The structure will eventually collapse for everyone and particular collapses are a warning of the breathtaking shortness of human life. Smooth crossings presently are a divine grace against our deserving. Therefore, we should take them as our opportunity to humbly draw close to God and honour him through a generous, well-lived life.