Thursday, August 09, 2007

My Thoughts on the 35W Bridge Collapse

Since I am a resident of the twin cities, the news about the collapse of the 35W Bridge near downtown Minneapolis hit me fairly close to home. But since I live in the northern metro area and rarely take that route (only a few times in a given year), I was in much less shock than many of my friends and co-workers who travel it more often. I used to travel that route very when I would go back and forth from college to home. It was also the route that I’d take to get to one of my favorite eating establishments, the Old Spaghetti Factory, which is a bit south and west of where the bridge collapsed.

Before I launch into my thoughts about this catastrophe, I must explain why I have waited for one full week to pass before making any comments at all. One of the basic reasons is that I didn’t want to be one of the people contributing to speculation of the death toll and injury estimates. There was so much on the local news outlets talking about the rising number of deaths and so far, most of those same organizations have had to retract and amend their figures to lower numbers until days later when actual verification of the number of dead and injured was obtained. How much could I have actually contributed on my personal blog where I normally go out of my way not to comment on current events, not to mention a more limited readership? Not much, but it was the principle of the matter that silenced me until now.

The second, and probably stronger, reason why I didn’t write anything is that I didn’t want to fall into the trap that so many people, Christian or otherwise, can fall into. I didn’t, and still don’t, want to trivialize the situation and make light of the loss of life. I have personally heard, and been negatively impacted by, people making comments, like stating that there were “only” six or so confirmed deaths in this event (so far). It is true that the loss of life could have been much worse if certain things were different, but we must be most careful of how quickly we boil things down to thinking about them in terms of zeroes and ones.

I hope that now I have had some sufficient time to think about this situation and I hope that my comments may be edifying. I heard about the bridge collapse in stages. The first stage was when my mother-in-law walked by me while I was teaching some children at the beginning of our Wednesday night church service and told me that I should check out the news when I get a chance because “a bridge collapsed”. The second stage occurred about an hour-and-a-half later when we were on our way home and I heard which bridge it was and when (around 6PM near the end of rush hour) it happened. And the final (visual) stage did not occur until after we put our kids to bed when I got my first look at the pictures of the bridge.

The first picture is from before the collapse and is an arial shot.
The second is after the collapse and is looking from the North.

I don’t know why (i.e. what physical reasons) the bridge fell and I don’t want to play the blame game. Should any negligence or pro-active evil behavior be dealt with? Absolutely! But my desire is not to look at this whole ordeal from an angle of blame and of seeking retribution.

I must say that my first two thoughts after hearing about the extent of the damage and the potential loss of life were revealing for me on a few different levels. The second of my two initial thoughts was the knee-jerk post September 11th American reaction of, “Terrorists!?” I was grateful when terrorism was basically ruled out as a plausible cause for this event. This is revealing to me because it shows just how much of my thinking has been influenced by current events in America and it reminds me of the real danger that is Islamic terrorism.

My first thought, and it was almost an immediate reaction, was to mentally reference and summarize Luke 13:1-5 by saying, “Repent lest you likewise perish.” This was my knee-jerk Christ-centered reaction to this tragedy.

1 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3 "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5)

I think that my initial gravitating to this passage of scripture reflects both something positive and negative about my attitude at that time. Positively speaking, I think that it is right to always keep eternity, the judgment of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the call of the gospel in mind during my daily activities. My heart and actions should be motivated by the truth of Jesus’ words because no matter how good or bad someone is (“good” in comparison” to one’s neighbors or infamous historical dictators), God’s judgment is certain and terrible for those individuals who have not repented of their personal wicked sinfulness and trusted in Christ Jesus alone for salvation.

Negatively speaking I think that although my heart perspective was right in my above reaction, my heart attitude was wrong. There was no hate, anger, or malice on my part directed at those involved in the collapse (or anyone for that matter), but even thought I felt both compassion and sorrow for those involved, there was not a sizable amount of either of them. The reality of this truth hit me pretty hard last Friday before I went into work. You see, my wife loves to listen to the local Christian Music Station (98.5 KTIS FM) whereas I like to listen to preaching-style programming that is been on a local preaching station (AM 980 KKMS). Well, when I was sitting in my living room holding my 10 day-old daughter and listening to the radio that my wife usually listens to, an announcer came on between songs and was basically sobbing over the airwaves because he was so emotionally invested in the bridge tragedy and the people involved with it. And, to my shame, my first thought after listening to him for a few seconds was something like, “I wonder if this sobbing is contrived or staged” and “C’mon, buddy, get it together.”

Whether the sobbing by the announcer was a genuine display of emotions or not is not my concern. What was genuine and a true cause of concern was my reaction to it. How jaded must my heart be in some areas to have such a calloused reaction to this episode where I automatically assumed the absolute most nefarious motivations of the announcer? Thankfully, only a moment or two passed before the Holy Spirit pricked my heart and alerted me at how wicked these thoughts were. And in the time following, where I was graced with the ability and desire to repent and re-evaluate my whole line of thinking, and I began to ask some very difficult questions of myself. These questions are not difficult because the answers are elusive or unknowable, but they are difficult simply because the answers seem to be pretty easy, but the implementation of the necessary changes based on those answers is hard.

Here’s an illustration. I can’t remember when the previews started coming out for the movie 300, but I really wanted to go see it. It looked like a very cool stylized depiction of the famous Spartan stand. A few months prior to this, I had begun visiting various movie review sites that are more family friendly so that I could avoid certain types of things. The basic thing that I looked for was nudity – if a movie has it, I am not going to see it. So, much to my dismay, I found that 300 did in fact show too much skin, and I had to actually back out of plans to see it because of this discovery. Later that same evening when I was talking about this with my wife, I made a few comments:
  • All nudity in film or other media is something that I wish to avoid because I understand how my mind and sinful nature works.
  • Why is it that I was willing to go and watch 2 hours of graphic blood-and-gore violence, but the incorporation of probably only a few minutes of nudity caused an automatic veto?
  • Just how desensitized have I become to the loss of human life and the blood and gore of warfare?
  • How much do video games, movies, and TV serve to dull my sensitivity to the issue of war, violence, and death (not to mention blasphemy, materialism, and the “soft” pornography present in most all commercials and television shows)?

Following the collapse of the bridge, I had a conversation along these lines with a Christian friend of mine. I posed to him some of these thoughts and the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was brought up because it was noted as being very realistic in its depiction of the gore and horror of the assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy. I saw that movie and all of its intense and graphic depictions of WWII violence and so did my friend. His comment was that viewing movies containing violence was more a matter of the maturity of the viewer (i.e. you wouldn’t let your six-year-old watch it because it was really mess them up) and not so much to do with the actual nature of what was being displayed. My question was this: what if we’d shown this same movie to a 25-year-old man who had lived all of his life in an environment where he’d never seen any pictures of war (other than what was shown to the public during WWII) nor had he ever been exposed to violence (graphic or otherwise) on visual media? What would his reaction have been? I believe that he would have been very, very disturbed. I think that viewing what was included in that movie might have just scarred him in a big way.

So what is my point? The hours I have spent viewing violence on TV or movies or participating in violence while playing video games (actually, the time spent is probably best counted in days or weeks) have most definitely caused me to be desensitized to actual violence and to the loss of human life. And the problem that I have is…I like to watch movies and play video games. I try not to watch too much TV or spend too much of my time gaming, but if the result is that my emotions and conscience are being dulled to the point of apathy and a degree of derision, is it worth the cost? Unfortunately, I am sure that I am not alone among American Christians in the manner that I reacted (although I can’t imagine anyone else having such a wretched thought when hearing the announcer on the radio), and I am also sure that there is a scaringly large amount of non-Christians who react similarly.

The next question or issue that is usually brought up is the “why” question. Why did this happen? Where was God? Why didn’t he stop it? How could a loving God allow this to happen? These are the questions that many people tend to ask in times like this. The short answer is that I don’t know the specific answer for why this exact thing happened at this specific time and effected or ended the lives of these exact people involved.

While talking about this tragedy and the loss of life, Mark Dever, Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and asked to answer the “where was God” question, he said the following,

“We are not opposed to that question. I don’t want to speak in any way that makes it seem that that is a silly question for people to ask. That is the exact right question to be asking. We don’t want people to be atheistic, we want them to see and understand that they have a basic assumption that there is a God, and that that God is good, and that we should, in our lives, have evidence and experience His goodness.”1

Following that, Pastor Dever was asked to harmonize the concept of a good God and the collapse of the bridge that caused suffering, and why did God not stop it?

“Some of those people who died may well have, from God’s perspective in the final exasperation of God saying ‘No more time, this is it’ and [they] have gone to judgment. Others of them may have been dear sweet saints, whom God was saying [that] they’ve spent enough time far away from Me, I want them to come to me now. You and I cannot know the vast variety of things that God was doing in individual lives.”2

But the answer to the bigger “why” is something that I am able to provide an answer for. The Bible says that God controls all things, and that the entire universe is held together by Christ. In a very real way it is Christ who holds up all of the bridges, all of the buildings, all of the airplanes, and everything else in this world. So if we are going to ask the question of why God allowed or caused this bridge to collapse, it is only fair to God to ask Him why He allowed or caused all of the other bridges, buildings, and airplanes not to fall down. And this second question is only made more urgent if we rightly understand God’s immense and immeasurable wrath at sinful men and women. And when we understand that it is an expression of God’s general grace that is shown by His patient endurance when He allows sinful people, who deserve immediate death and damnation, to live and enjoy life for any length of time at all, only then can we see death and calamity in its proper God-centered context.

9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,” (2 Peter 3:9,15)

I have one final thought about this tragedy, but it doesn’t have so much to do with the actual collapsing of the bridge, but it relates to the public religious response. In order to do that, I am going to mesh some thoughts that I had about the memorial service Virginia Tech massacre with what occurred in Minneapolis at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. But since I couldn’t find the full text or audio of the service following the bridge collapse, I don’t want to use some partial statement that a news agency may have given, but I can tell you that it truly was a multi-faith gathering.

That is why I am referencing the Virginia Tech memorial service, because it was a gathering where representatives of the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian faiths were present to offer comfort from their religious perspectives. At the Virginia Tech service, the Muslim representative made a specific reference to Allah as being “most merciful, most compassionate”. He also quoted from two different passages in the “Holy Qur’an” saying,

“Those who say when afflicted with calamity, ‘to Allah we belong, and to him is our return.’”

“Nor does anyone know what it is that he or she will earn tomorrow, nor does anyone know in what land he or she is to die. Verily, with Allah his full knowledge and he is acquainted with all things.”

Similarly, the Buddhist clearly referenced the Dali Lama and another Buddhist leader while the Jewish representative clearly referenced Jewish tradition and even quoted from Ecclesiastes in both Hebrew and English. However the Christian representative didn’t reference the Bible nor did he mention the name of Jesus Christ at all! What kind of harlotry is this? Even President Bush quoted the Bible when he referenced Romans 12:21,

“As the Scriptures tell us, ‘Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”3

President Bush didn’t proclaim the gospel, but at least he quoted the book that he ascribes to believe in. If the president of a secular government can make an explicit reference to the Christian Scriptures, how can a Christian not do the same or name the name of our Lord and Savior? How can someone claim to represent Christ without even paying Him the most meager amount of homage? In fact the “Christian” minister went out of his way to say that comfort can be found in all religions and that he affirmed the “sovereignty of life over death.” He went on to say, “We come to testify that the light of love cannot be defeated.” These are all very nice platitudes, but there is nothing specifically Christian about them. Christians affirm the sovereignty or power of Christ over death and He cannot be defeated. Some of his comments may have been elusions to the Bible, but since he didn’t mention the Bible or Christ, he may as well have been a secular humanist, because that is as “Christian” as his speech was.4

One of the problems with Inter-faith services is that it seems that those who call themselves Christians are the ones most hesitant to make any clear Christian claims when other religious traditions are vocal about their own claims. Most likely the reason is that any real Christian claim is clearly will be based on the unequivocally exclusive nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, referencing Christ and the Bible destroys anything that the fallen and secular world is seeking to do in an inter-faith service because the gospel does not allow itself to be one of many different acceptable forms of religion. The gospel separates Christ from all other demonic and man made religions and traditions because He was profoundly and undeniably exclusive in everything that He said and did.

After thinking about the inter-faith service and the hypocrisy of having Christian worship meshed with Islamic and Buddhist worship, I leaned over to my wife and told her that if I die in a national or local tragedy an inter-faith service might be convened, I don’t want her or anyone who mourns for me to go to such an interfaith service. Why go to where apostasy, falsehood, and heresy reigns but the comforting and peaceful truth that is only found in Christ Jesus is not? No, instead I want those who would mourn for me to go to a Christian service. Go to where the pastor will use the opportunity of my death to preach the gospel. So that through the opportunity presented by my death and the divine working of the Holy Spirit, maybe, just maybe, some lost and wretched sinner would be saved by the grace of God.

Soli Deo Gloria.

1 Way of the Master Radio 8/2/07 – Hour 1

2 Ibid.


4 An instrumental only version of “Amazing Grace” was played following the minister’s comments, but there was still nothing overtly Christian about his message.


Tobin said...

Yes, the whole interfaith services that have been seen recently is extremely bothersome. It goes along with the "embrace the similarities" between religions movement that many are falling for, and was very heavily promoted and advanced by Promise Keepers.

EJ said...

Man, I was not aware that Promise Keepers was into that kind of "all roads-ism". I'll have to check that out. If that is true...very disturbing.

tobin said...

I don't remember everything - it's been awhile since that movement was so big. I've never attended any of their functions, but from everything I've heard and read, they preached "denominational unity" constantly. I remember one of their leaders being quoted in an article at one point comparing mass to communion and saying it was the same thing and didn't matter which you chose. There's still a lot of information out there, some I agree with, some I don't, but I think the ecumenism they promoted can't be denied.

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