I have been following the story of awful shooting at Florida State University. Admittedly, the student who was either blessed or lucky in being saved from the would-be killer's bullet slowed to a stop by books (especially a theological tome) in his book bag especially caught my attention.
Jason Derfuss, the young man who was spared, took to his Facebook page to say
Earlier tonight there was a shooting at FSU, right as I was leaving Strozier. I didn't know this at the time, but the Shooter targeted me first. The shot I heard behind me I did not feel, nor did it hit me at all. He was about 5 feet from me, but he hit my books. Books one minute earlier I had checked out of the library .... The truth is I was almost killed tonight and God intervened. I know conceptually He can do all things, but to physically witness the impossible and to be surrounded by such grace is indescribable. To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen.
It seems to me totally understandable that spiritual-minded people like Derfuss would think that way. Unusual or incredible coincidences are usually chalked up to divine providence.
On the other hand, it also seems reasonable to me that those who have no patience with the god-hypotheses would use examples such as Jason Derfuss to press their viewpoint.
The comments section of the Yahoo News coverage of this story provided me not only with the title for this post, but also some perspective for those of us who would take seriously the matter of divine providence.
Let me give a couple of comments from nonbelievers who were provoked by Derfuss' Facebook post.
One critic offered:
This idiot is convinced that god intervened ... If god intervened, then by extension he chose not to intervene when the others were shot. What kind of douche bag god does that??? ...Nice god you got there, idiot.
Then another wrote:
I'm sure it's a pleasant thought to those that escape tragedy by inches to imagine God must have singled them out for special saving. But seriously, there's an incredible insult against those who die or are seriously injured in shootings & other tragedies implicit in such a "God intervened for ME" belief. It implies those who get shot must not be worth saving in God's eyes, & therefore must have "had it coming."
That is sick, & I don't mean in the good way.
Interestingly enough, a man claiming not to be religious or a believer in God at all brought up a counterpoint (which I'm sure he heard or read somewhere along the way) with:
...if God and heaven are real then death really isn't that terrible a thing so deaths wouldn't prove that God is an #$%$. In fact, compared to eternity in heaven any evil that happens in life would be worth almost nothing. Someone could undergo the most horrid evils but it would seem insignificant upon reaching heaven.
Now that isn't the way I personally would respond to critics above - but then, I have a different outlook on things than Derfuss does, even if I am able buy into this possibly being a divine coincidence.
Back in my Christian days I would have signed off on the idea that bad as the suffering in this world is and can be, it can't compare to the final glories of Heaven. And I would have quoted the Apostle Paul:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
Alas, I am no longer a Christian and am an agnostic about Heaven. So that defense is not open to me.
However, something I recall from Christian apologist C. S. Lewis' little work on The Problem of Pain has stuck with me and concerns the conception of Divine Goodness:
Nothing so far has been said of this, and no answer attempted to the objection that if the universe must, from the outset, admit the possibility of suffering, then absolute goodness would have left the universe uncreated. And I must warn the reader that I shall not attempt to prove that to create was better than not to create: I am aware of no human scales in which such a portentous question can be weighed...
Well, I kind of accept that suffering is inevitable and certainly neither do I know what scale to use in order to decide whether it was better to create or not to create. Perhaps this approach might serve to temper the idea that suffering makes God a #$%$.
But what about the idea that God plays favorites, which the critics also press?
I confess that I also have a dislike for the idea of "chosen" people. Fatalism and predestination in the divine scheme of things just don't appeal to me at all - which, I know, proves absolutely nothing.
Nevertheless, I don't want people thinking that if I take divine coincidences or providence to be genuine it makes me hardhearted and unsympathetic to the suffering of others. (Nor do I want to be thought an idiot.)
But let me this throw this thought out here. It's something I kick around and find much more satisfying than my former viewpoint. What if there is a divine realm (call it God for simplicity) and a divine sense in each one of us that attracts us to the divine? What if we humans do have the freedom to choose to act or not to act in connecting with this divine realm? And further, what if those who do seek connection explore and concentrate on this connection to varying degrees? (In the instance at hand we have Jason Derfuss needing to work on a theology paper and "for some reason" choosing the thick tome that aided in perhaps saving his life - obviously because he is seeking connection with the divine.)
In this scheme it certainly doesn't necessarily follow that an "intervention" for one is a choice not to intervene for another.
At the same. time In offering the above I'm not suggesting that bad things can always be avoided. (What religious philosophy offers that, anyway?) This is in agreement with Lewis that from the outset the universe entails suffering. Even with the matter of death - which every one of us must eventually face - it remains true that how one lives is more important than how one dies - even if the death turns out to be tragic. Life is still a gift and an opportunity.