As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, and occasional visitor to what is left of Mount St. Helens after the big blast in 1980, I was very interested to watch two specials that aired Tuesday night on Oregon Public Broadcasting.
The first was a very interesting look at how life has returned to much of the blast zone, a return that defied the expectations of scientists in the speed with which it happened. Which is not to say that anything magical and unexplainable happened, just that scientists were surprised and forced to re-evaluate some of their theories; of course, that kind of error-correction in the face of clear evidence is the strength of the scientific method.
The second special told the stories of several people who nearly lost their lives 30 years ago—loggers who mistakenly believed they were outside the danger zone, campers who believed that as well...and one film crew that entered the devastated area three days after the May 18 eruption having failed to take essential preparations that I would not neglect were I camping in a national park. Insufficient food and fresh water and a plan for rendezvous that did not fully account for the difficult conditions one could expect left the crew in a precarious state of existence.
One member of that crew, predictably, sat down and prayed to God for deliverance from that terrible, lifeless place he had wandered into. Then, looking around at the few dead trees still standing, noticed one that looked remarkably like a cross, at which point he knew that he had not been forsaken, that God would see to it that rescue would come.
At that point I fumbled for the remote, wanting to turn off my TV before the obligatory "God reached out and saved me" crap could foul the air. I just don’t have a high tolerance for such nonsense.
The eruption of St. Helens killed at least 57 people, some of whom had professional reasons for being in the area, and most of whom had reason to believe they were not in serious danger. Some, including at least one child, were killed by the Toutle River, swollen with mud and logs, well outside the blast zone.
So did God reach down and give that film crew a sign before proceeding to save them from their own questionable decision to enter the blast zone unprepared, while leaving dozens to suffer their fate without supernatural intervention? Does God let innocent children die while personally intervening in the fate of people who deliberately put themselves in harm’s way?
To me, that kind of thinking is very close to the pinnacle of arrogance. The belief that the creator of the universe, the most powerful being that could exist, so favors me that he will save me from my own questionable decisions while condemning others to death is about the furthest thing I can imagine from the meek and humble attitude that Christians profess to.
As for the sign of the cross, well...I’ve spent some time in those woods. I’ve seen lots of things that look like crosses. I have yet to take one of them to mean that God loves me more than children.