I live just outside Glasgow, but I worship and work there. The first I knew of it was hearing a doctor friend had been called into her hospital, and things, quite unspecified things, looked bad. Then, overnight, the picture began to build.
The news reporters have said it all. The courage of the helpers, the calm of the survivors, the willing aid of the medical staff.
And because we are human, the search for meaning starts. We want it all to mean something, if it can. Jesus, we are told, got waylaid by the same questioning. Those people killed by the fall of the Tower of Siloam, were they wicked? Or was it a flawed Eurocopter which fell on them?
No, it was just a tower, it just fell. Something went wrong, and people just died. Foundations were not right, or metal was fatigued, and people just died.
It is a hard thing for faith to grapple with — this injustice. This lack of reason.
In this case we have as yet no idea what caused the tragedy. The overwhelming probability is that some small flaw somewhere caused this disproportionate effect. The natural impulse is to demand why God does not set the world up to be just. Why he cannot step in each time to sort things out so that the innocent never suffer and the guilty only suffer proportionately.
If we could solve this, we would have unravelled one of the major stumbling blocks to faith, and I suspect our churches would be much more full.
Sometimes, it is true, we can catch echoes of a kind of reason, if not a justice. Global warming increases weather disasters. Any one typhoon may not be down to global warming, but the fact is, we know that western greed and selfishness will create weather events that kill the disadvantaged elsewhere. It is not justice but it is a consequence. If there were no consequence, if each time God stepped in and stopped the suffering, it seems to me that people would be trapped in endless childhood. If no person could kill with evil intent, we might as well all give rein to our anger to the full, for who is hurt? If no negligence could ever derail a train, who would, in the end, put in a full day’s work or pay a wage which offered motivation? Not me, that is for sure.
But for all that, we start Advent, and we start our meditations on justice, with a glaring example of how unfair the world is. Any Glaswegian could have been unwinding on Friday night, listening to the music. Any pub could have the one on which the helicopter fell. It could have been anybody.
The pious lesson is that we can keep such terrible harm to a minimum by each doing what we can, just as the medical staff of Glasgow all answered their various bleeps on Friday night. Just as we have worked over the ages to understand the foundations of towers, and the breaking points of metal, and the stalling of engines. The little we do builds to a greater whole. Also, we can attend to the great matters of justice, so that the poor can eat and typhoons be stilled.
But still, for each of us, as we face the inevitable random tragedies of our lives, the large and the small, there will always be a struggle to make the best sense we can of things, and a need to say firmly that after all, there is no sense to be made of some things. No sense, but if we believe in our creative faith, even out of the horrors of no sense, and of heartbreak, we can still spin beauty, and seek comfort in the faces of the rescue workers, the medical staff, the ordinary public, who let a little light into a dark place.
Rosemary Hannah is the author of The Grand Designer.