Sunday, July 7, 2013

Musings: tragic? No, marvelous

We were on our way home. We boarded the airplane, the doors were closed, we pulled away from the gate at 11:30am and got in line to take off. The safety video was shown and we were ready to go. Then the pilot's voice came over the system saying that our takeoff would be delayed a few minutes because apparently there was a brush fire at the side of the runway which was being put out. After 10 minutes or so he announced that the fire was due to a plane crash and that we would be returning to the terminal so we could de-plane since it was unclear how long it would take before we were cleared to leave.

As the plane turned around we could see a mass of black smoke rising and expanding. It was clear that the fuel tanks of the crashed airplane had just exploded. The purser of our flight announced that they had no information about the crash other than that it was an Asiana plane. We were told that we would have to take all our carry-on luggage with us when we de-planed, and that it would be awhile before anyone would know when our flight would be cleared to go. Once we got into the terminal it was announced that the entire airport had been closed and would not re-open until at least 8pm, but there was still no information on the crashed plane. We were told to stay near the gate until there was clarity about when our flight could leave.

There were several big screen TVs near our gate and a number of us went over there to see if we could get any information there. Each TV was tuned in to a different channel, with all of them reporting on the crash. They were all showing really awful photos of the body of the blackened plane with the top blown off and the tail missing, and of course they were all describing the incident as a TRAGEDY. However, the real story was much different - a positive story of escape from peril, of grace in the face of danger.

While we waited for an announcement about our own flight, many of us logged onto the internet and discovered that one of the passengers of the crashed plane had been able to post a number of tweets that described the crash and its aftermath. He said that everyone had been calm and had been able to exit the plane before it burst into flames.

Although there were 2 deaths and a number of injuries, the first reports were significantly exaggerated and the the fact that almost all the passengers survived is a marvel. The photos of the burning hulk of the plane that the media kept obsessing on were taken AFTER everyone had been evacuated. The majority of the passengers were already in the airport terminal after having been examined and found with only minor injuries.

Later that day we were sitting next to a woman who was talking to her sister on her cell phone. Apparently the sister was due to land at SFO at about the same time as the plane that crashed. For an hour the caller kept repeating to her sister how worried she and her parents had been when they couldn't get any hard information about the accident - worried that perhaps it was the plane with the sister on it. The woman went into excruciating detail describing how traumatized she had been and how poorly she was coping. This was someone who was NOT one of the passengers on the doomed plane, nor was her sister.

It struck me that this is probably how most people who have no strong faith in God would react to a frightening situation. People are afraid of being made victims by circumstances beyond their control, and can become obsessed with real-life situations in which there were victims. But what is it about being a victim that is so terrifying? The issue is suffering without assent, right? But if the victim assents to the suffering - which is what happens when you offer your suffering to God as an act of unity with Christ - where's the terror? The "victim" has the power to change death into life (Christ's resurrected life) through his or her assent to the suffering. What an awesome weapon God has given us against Satan's primary mode of attack! This is the testimony that the martyrs of the faith have for us, to take heart no matter how awful the circumstance, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds...bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5)

P.S. After several hours of waiting at the gate the airline said that they were unable to arrange to fly our plane load of people into Cabo in an unscheduled flight, so our flight was cancelled and we all had to book a new flight. Happily, I had already called the hotel we had left several hours earlier and reserved a second night in the room we had vacated. After an hour and a half of waiting to get through to Virgin America to book a new flight, we finally were set up to fly out on Monday.

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