A brush with death
On the way back from our visit to the Cape Kidnappers gannet colonies (Gannets: gormless but gorgeous), Martha and I had our closest-ever brush with death. We could not help but be awestruck as we stared up at the cliffs — what inspiring testimony to the meaningless of time to God. He “was there” when these cliffs were forming over the eons, and He could tell us, if He chose to, the life story of every stone cemented into the conglomerates. (If one accepts that God has infinite mental processing power, that seemingly absurd idea is turned into a logical certainty.) Yet as we thumped and bumped, my sense of wonder began to be gradually replaced by a feeling of alarm. I remembered the softness of the rocks that I had examined earlier and the huge amount of rain that we had had the previous two days. I could not help but wonder what vibrations three laden, growling tractors were setting off in the rocks and soil. I muttered to Martha, “This is scary; I just want to get out of here”.
Sixty seconds later we got the shock of our lives. We just happened to be looking towards the lead tractor when, before our eyes, a huge pile of soil that had been lying against the cliffs at a precarious angle slipped and tumble-rushed across the beach into the water. In what seemed to be only two or three seconds, a thirty meter long, two to three meter high, tongue of tangled wet dirt, grass tussocks, bushes and rocks was created. I estimate the lead wagon, with thirty people aboard, was about twenty seconds shy of being engulfed. Being on the third wagon, we were about sixty seconds away. Since the tide was on its way in, and the dirt pile made it impossible for the tractors to go any further, we had no choice but to make our way out on foot — fast. I don't know if the three tractors were ever recovered.
We were thankful to get home alive. Sixty seconds difference between life and death; it's enough to make one think.
Maybe God intervened to spare our lives; if He did, then I am truly grateful. (Of course, maybe somebody else on the same trip could be the one he sought to spare.) On the other hand, the chances of anybody actually being on the very spot during the few seconds a slip occurred are very slim. Nobody was. Sixty seconds away is as good as being on the other side of the earth. In other words, maybe no
intervention was involved.
Further, I have no reason to believe that God would intervene to save me any more than He would to save any other believers. Though we all pray for and hope for divine protection, we all know of cases where believers have died a tragic accidental death. Leaving aside such interesting and puzzling passages as Psalm 91, and the equally intriguing general promise that those who honor their parents will enjoy long life (Ex. 20:12), readers of Scripture know that God has not guaranteed total protection to believers:
There is a vanity which occurs on earth, that there are just men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked ; again, there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous (Eccl 8:14).
Other interpretations of our narrow escape are possible. One of my detractors commented to his wife, when he heard about the incident, “Well, he has been warned”. Apparently worse things are on the way for me if I don't mend my ways.
Others who have a narrow brush with death sometimes interpret the event as indicating that God has spared them for some special purpose. I remember hearing that Billy Graham decided God wanted him to preach as a result of being almost killed when a car ran up onto the sidewalk, killing his companion but missing him.
The long and the short of it is that we humans have no way of reading events. The configuration of tea leaves in a cup or the condition of a slaughtered animal's entrails tell us absolutely nothing about what is going on in the realm or in the mind of the divine. Since the destruction of the Levitical priesthood and the ephod, we have no way of knowing what God is doing or intends to do in specific situations. You can safely ignore the claims of anybody who suggests they have an “in” to the mind of God. Believers must live in faith that God has all wisdom and power and so can work all things to their ultimate spiritual advantage (Rom. 8:28) in spite of the hazards wrought by time and chance (Eccl. 9:11). We walk by faith, knowing that Jesus Christ is busily at work to save you; we do, not walk by sight.