From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Commentary: Where was God when Columbia exploded?

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Mon, 3 Feb 2003 15:11:21 -0600

Feb. 3, 2003 News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.  

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Dan Dick*

A woman pulled me aside and said, "You work with the Science and Theology
Task Force. I have a question for you: where was God when the space shuttle
blew up? Tell me that!"

Many different issues are contained within this question. First, there is
sadness - the emotions elicited by stark tragedy. Second, there is fear -
fear that the God of love and compassion might be absent in time of greatest
need. Third, there is a challenge - a challenge to the false gods of science
and technology that seem no more dependable than any other substitute for

Ultimately, there is just one issue: How do we make sense of a tragedy like
the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia?

The most normal human response to any tragedy is to seek answers, and the
easiest way to find an answer is to fix blame. Where can we ascribe fault?
Who is responsible? For a people of Christian faith, we cannot accept that
this is God's will. 

One radio evangelist immediately responded to say that the explosion of the
space shuttle was "a warning shot from God, telling us to remember our
place." However, the only way that this explanation makes sense is to believe
that God fears us, and that God-given knowledge that yields such incredible
advances in science and technology is somehow a threat to the Almighty. Only
a little, petty God would sacrifice the lives of those gifted women and men
to "put us in our place."

God did not do this to us, nor is science to blame. God makes no promise to
protect us from all mishap, especially from the very law of nature God
established to govern all of creation. Neither can science provide an escape
from natural law. To live is to be at risk. Faith in God, or faith in science
for that matter, is no guarantee that hardship will no longer befall us. Life
is what it is, and our faith offers us less than total protection from harm.
What is offered, however, is much more valuable.

God will not remove tragedy from our lives, but God will move with us through
tragedy. In the wake of a disaster like the Columbia explosion, faith in God
grants us something that science never will: spiritual companionship through
the devastation. As a parent cannot remove the sting from injury to their
children, God cannot make our pain go away. But just like an earthly parent,
God can hold us in our distress and comfort us with that gentle presence that
gives us space to heal. 

Science and technology make no such offer. The best our science can do is
promise to find ways to reduce the probability of disaster in the future.
That is worth something, but it is little comfort in the moment.

God never promises to make our problems go away. What God promises is to be
there with us through the problems. Where was God when the space shuttle
disintegrated? God was with each and every astronaut, their families and
friends, as they experienced tragedy. God was in the anguish and tears, the
terror and confusion. God was in the questions and in the disbelief. God was
not the cause of this catastrophe, nor was science.

As science seeks technological answers to the accident that occurred, God
seeks to heal the hearts of those most deeply scarred by this event. May God
work thorough all of us to spread that healing and share the spirit of
compassion that leads to faith.

# # #

*Dick is director of congregational planning and leader development at the
United Methodist Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn., and a member of
the Interagency Task Force on Science and Theology. Dick wrote this
commentary for the board's science and technology Web site at

Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily
represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.

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