On the way home from work recently, I saw a bad accident near my neighborhood. Apparently a truck cut across 4 lanes of traffic and a median, hitting several oncoming cars and ending up in the woods. I’m not sure of the details. I try not to be one of those rubber-neckers that stop to stare at calamity.
It is always shocking to come across an accident like this, especially near home. I immediately felt sorrow and empathy for everyone involved in the accident. Which is probably what caused another shocking event in my own car as I drove by the accident.
I crossed myself and said a prayer.
It was completely reflexive. I didn’t even think about it. Before I knew what happened, my left hand shifted to the steering wheel and my right hand made the sign of the Cross as I thought, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
This is how I used to respond to calamity. Once upon a time, my first response to an accident was to say a prayer interceding for the victims and the emergency workers, and thanking that I was spared. However, I never could quite reconcile the idea that God’s grace somehow protected me while allowing those “other” people to sustain injury. How did that even make sense?
If God was good and loving, why did he let any of the people get hurt? Especially the innocent ones who weren’t drunk or lawless or texting, who were obeying the law and doing the right thing when some other idiot made bad choices and injured/killed them? And what made me so special that “but for the grace of God’s there go I”?
Growing up, whenever we were late for an event or when we were delayed in traffic, my mom always coped by suggesting that maybe the delay was God’s way of keeping us out of harms way. Rather than being impatient we should be thankful. While this attitude isn’t bad in itself – we could all use more patience and less road rage – the idea that the creator of the universe took time out of his celestial schedule specifically to direct me out of harm’s way was baffling to me. I learned to accept and trust it, but I could never shake the secondary thought of “what about….?”
What about the people who were harmed in that hypothetical accident that we missed by the skin of our teeth? What about the good woman at church who never smoked but ended up with lung cancer? What about the children who had never harmed anyone but lived with terror daily just because they were born to the wrong people? What about the good people who couldn’t have children at all? What about the helpless women who were abused, raped, enslaved? How could I thank a deity for a good parking space or a great sale on Coach purses when there were people dying by the thousands from hunger and thirst, disease and oppression, or for no damned good reason at all? And how fair was it that, if they died in the wrong part of the world with the wrong beliefs, they were damned to hell for all eternity?
None of these thoughts, no incident in particular, caused my faith to leave me. There was no calamity that I can point to, no particular crux of justice or reason. But now I wonder if these life-long questions laid the groundwork without my awareness. Perhaps the rock on which I stood for 40+ years was simply overtaken by the erosion of a million tiny doubts.