Yesterday I made my lunch and sat down to enjoy the noon news. But when I flipped on the TV, I was greeted by the tragic videos of smoke billowing from a neighborhood just a few miles from me, where an USMC F-18 fighter jet had crashed just two minutes earlier. Sadly, four people were killed: A mother, two very young children, and their grandmother. Four wonderful lives, snuffed out in an instant, by utterly random chance.
Years ago, I remember reading about a couple on a canoe trip in Canada for their honeymoon. A beaver just happened to be gnawing a tree as they paddled by; the tree fell and killed the woman. Utterly and completely random.
I did a lot of camping at Yosemite National Park when my kids were young. One year, we heard that a monstrous branch from an ancient sequoia tree broke off and fell on the open upper deck of a tourist bus, killing a number people. When those people woke up that morning, would any of them have guessed they wouldn't live to see the end of the day?
If you believe, as millions do, that God is omnipotent and omniscient, then God knew these people were going to die, and in fact these deaths were somehow part of His plan. For some reason yesterday, God decided to kill a baby, a toddler, their mother, and their grandmother. God decided to leave behind a widowed grandfather, and a father who not only lost his wife, but also his two tiny children.
And you have to believe that, for some inscrutable reason, God had that beaver cut the tree down right when the happy couple were paddling by, leaving her husband a young widower. The same goes for all those people on the bus in Yosemite – God decided to kill them, too.
There are many far greater tragedies unfolding across the world every day, but these simple, small tragedies hit me much harder. Maybe it's because a million starving people are too much to grasp, but a dead family in my own neighborhood is something my brain can understand.
Jews, Christians and Muslims who believe that God is really in charge, and deliberately causes all of these random, horrible deaths, have resorted to some of the most inscrutable and indefensible logic in the history of humanity. The pinnacle of this "logic," the phrase that I find deeply offensive, is: "God works in mysterious ways." In other words, none of this makes any sense, but God is smarter than us, and uses a superior logic that is far beyond human comprehension. God has a plan, and God is good, so killing some babies, their mother, and their grandmother, must be a good thing. But we poor humans are too dumb to grasp the logic that helps God realize why this random killing was for the best.
As for me, I prefer a much more sensible explanation: Random stuff happens, and sometimes you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.