'...but God was not in the earthquake'

As the world marvels at the rescue of the miners from their confinement two thousand feet underground, several religious leaders are camped on the margins of the desert scene that has been relayed into millions of homes all over the world.  Each of them, it would seem, is seeking to claim credit for having influenced God to save the trapped miners, or at least to attribute to God the responsibility for having chosen to keep the thirty-three alive and to bring them safely back to the surface of His world.

Let there be no doubt: the ordeal suffered by these men, trapped two thousand feet underground since the start of August, and the heroic effort to rescue them from their improbable sanctuary is a testament to human endurance and ingenuity - and no little engineering skill.  But to suggest that it required divine intervention – or at least, a series of petitions to the Almighty – to facilitate this, misses the point of how God works.

In the midst of their religious fervour, the Evangelist, Adventist and Catholic clergy in the Atacama desert might wish to stop for a moment and ask themselves why the Almighty did not intervene sooner and prevent the collapse of rock in the mineshaft that trapped the men in the first place.  And where was God in dark underground places where countless other brave individuals, whose lives working in difficult and dangerous conditions were cut short by catastrophes similar to that in Chile?  Where the invisible, benevolent influence in those tunnels, out of which came no sound, and from which no survivors emerged? 

The truth is that God was present in all of those occurrences, no less than in the remote Chilean desert, from which the final miner emerges as I write.  Not selecting who would live and who would die – such matters are a consequence of physics.  But in the hearts of individuals whose will to survive can sometimes overcome even the most impossible circumstances, in the collective human spirit that refuses to be broken by nature’s callous indifference, in the brains of those who work to devise mechanisms to enable rescues to take place, in the caring arms of those who hold and comfort the bereaved, and in the ability of those who lose loved ones in such terrible accidents to overcome their grief, rebuild their lives and carry on.

There’s a well-known story about a religious, God-fearing man who trusted in the Almighty to save him from any danger and distress.  So when his town was flooded, he was not alarmed.  The waters rose, the streets filled with water, and soon his living room was under several inches of water.  But when a fire engine came past his house, splashing through the flooded street and the firemen invited him to climb aboard, he waved them away.  ‘God will rescue me!’ he cried cheerfully as the fire engine continued along the street.

The waters continued to rise, and soon the man was forced upstairs to escape the deadly flow.  Shortly after he had climbed the stairs, a lifeboat passed by his bedroom window.  ‘Climb aboard!’ urged the rescuer.  ‘No thanks,’ replied the man.  ‘I shall wait for God to rescue me.  The people on the boat tried to persuade him, but he was adamant, so the boat continued along the underwater street leaving him in his house.

Eventually the man was forced to climb onto his roof as the waters continued to rise. As he did so, a helicopter pilot spotted him and a rope ladder was lowered.  Despite the pleading of the rescue team on the helicopter, the man insisted that he would wait for God to rescue him, and waved the helicopter away.

The water continued to rise and the man drowned.  Angrily he confronted the Almighty, demanding to know why he, a fervent believer, had not been saved by God despite his faith.  ‘I sent you a fire engine, a lifeboat and a helicopter,’ was the reply.  ‘What else did you want me to do?’

The second miner to emerge from underground in Chile claimed that there were thirty-four people underground for those sixty-seven days – thirty-three miners and God.  Not the one for whom the man on the roof and the clergy in the desert waited for and prayed to.  But the one that dwells in every human heart, reminding us that what is best about humanity is its acknowledgement of the value of life and its refusal to surrender hope.

Posted on Ruth Gledhill's 'Articles of Faith' at timesonline (you have to pay to read it!) http://bit.ly/b5rgas