Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fingerprints of God

The week that thousands were dying in Haiti from a catastrophic earthquake, my dear friend Seamus in Ireland very nearly died from a weather-related freak accident. In an unusually harsh Irish winter, Seamus was riding into town with his parents when a tree, roots weakened by the severe frost, fell directly on their vehicle and destroyed it. “At the extremest end of statistical unlikelihood,” Seamus called the situation. His crouch-instinct saved his life; the tree crushed past the headrest in the back seat where he was sitting. In the end, Seamus and his parents emerged from the pulverized vehicle without a scratch. “I’ve cut myself worse shaving,” he told me.

Unbeknownst to the three hapless passengers, Seamus’ devout grandmother had awoken at 6am afraid for her son’s life, and spent the next hour praying for him. The tree fell at 6:45.

It’s a bizarre situation that seems to have the intervention of God written all over it, but as I’ve mulled over it in the past week it strikes me that I cannot isolate specific locations for his fingerprints. Does God knock trees down on people to demonstrate his power and protection (by far the most uncanny part of the whole story)? Does God take the initiative to wake old women in order to answer their prayers, as if he could do the former unprompted but required prompting for the latter? Does God simply manufacture the physics of the world such that the tree did not crush the family (reverse entropy yet again?), so that the climax of the story is the most explainable, and the most joyous miracle can be accepted by a Deist?

I do not know. Nor exactly did I know how to pinpoint God’s intervention when my college friend hit a patch of ice in the mountains and found herself upside-down in a freezing river trapped in her seatbelt. Nor when an enormous tree fell where my little brother was playing in our childhood, scratching his arm as it came down. Nor when a car hit my housemate on her bike, or me on foot. Nor can I make sense of it when there seems to be no intervention, and friends get shot or hit by cars or drown.

Perhaps we meet God like any other person, not like a scientific phenomenon that we can test and analyze. Just as I cannot objectively qualify the actions of a friend, determining which are fueled by love and which by self-interest, but can nevertheless assert over time that I know my friend, perhaps in time we can come to know our God who is loving and powerful as we become familiar with the way he runs his world.

I do not know how to qualify God’s actions; all I know is what they say about him. And they seem to say that he is a God near enough for me to love.
Why do you contend against him,
saying, “He will answer none of man’s words”?
For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though man does not perceive it.
Job 33:13-14

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