Being right with God before death

Published 9:22 am Friday, May 1, 2015

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Nancy Overgaard

Recently, I watched a news special on the collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis. The program featured stories of miraculous survival alongside accounts of tragic loss, leaving the unanswered question of why. Why, in any tragedy, are some so miraculously rescued and others so tragically not?

Nancy Overgaard

Nancy Overgaard

One woman told her story of miraculous survival. As the bridge collapsed her car plunged into the Mississippi River and sank to the bottom. At first, she struggled frantically to break a window and get out of the car. Unable to get out, she resigned herself to death and quietly waited as the car filled with water. Then, inexplicably, she found herself outside the car and kicked her way to the surface.

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Reaching the surface she found herself swept downriver by the current. A survivor standing dazed by a broken edge of the bridge was jolted into action. On seeing her, he glanced around, spotted a broom and held it out for her to grab just in time to be pulled onto the bridge.

The story sounds too good to be true. How did she get out of the car? How did she make it to the surface before running out of breath? Where did the broom come from? How did her rescuer happen to be looking in her direction at just the right moment? How did he come to be in just the right place at just the right time? How was she able to grab and hold onto the broom? Even she does not know.

Hers is not the only story of dramatic rescue. An entire busload of children was saved, pulled one by one from a bus that came to rest yards away from a truck engulfed in flames. The man who rescued the woman from being swept downstream had his own story. Hearing thunderous noises, he looked around and saw cars sliding off the broken bridge above crashing onto the pavement near him. Looking up, he saw another car dangling above him, yet, it never fell.

Theirs are the outcomes anyone would want. Yet, not all were so fortunate, if fortune can be credited. Alongside stories of miraculous survival were heartbreaking stories of tragic loss. Thirteen people died in that accident, including the driver of the truck that exploded so near the busload of children who lived. The woman who inexplicably escaped her sunken car agonizes over the other drivers who died in theirs.

What explains the difference of who lived and who died? Were those who died the unluckiest 13 on the bridge that day? Were they the least prayerful, the weakest in faith, the most sinful? Were those rescued the most prayerful, the most godly, the strongest in faith?

In the interview, the woman who experienced what was arguably the most miraculous rescue made no mention of God, no mention of faith, no mention of prayer. Unless the interviewer left out something, it would seem faith did not play a role in her life or in rescue. So, what did make the difference?

Similar questions arose in Jesus’ day after a disturbing incident and a tragic accident in which some lost their lives and others did not (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus was emphatic on one point. The answer is not that those who suffer terribly or die tragically are worse people than others.

Jesus left other questions unanswered and turned to a more important issue. What matters more, Jesus taught, is that we each be ready to face our end whenever and however it comes. Once we get that settled other questions matter less. An earthquake during a visit to Los Angeles taught me that, shaking me into the realization my own life was not right with God and that I needed to get it right before it was too late. Once that matter was settled, the where and when and how I die really do not matter.

May the question Jesus did answer give you peace in the midst of the questions He did not.


Nancy Overgaard is a member of the Freeborn County Ministerial Association.