When an airplane crashed this summer in Detroit, newspapers quickly dubbed the sole survivor, a four-year-old girl, the “miracle child.” Did God spare her, but not the 154 other passengers, from death? By freak coincidence, a salesperson from Zondervan Publishing House had missed that very flight; did God prompt her, but only her, to avoid the fated airline?

Questions like these surface in the wake of every disaster, turning our focus to the seeming unfairness of life. Why isn’t God more consistent, we wonder.

A few days after the Detroit plane crash I came across a clipping from a three-year-old Time magazine that reported on a terrible fire in England’s York Minster. Some thought the fire, caused by a lightning bolt, was divine retribution: The cathedral was the site of the episcopal consecration of Canon David Jenkins, who had publicly questioned both the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection.

The problem with the York Minster lightning bolt, of course, is that it stands as such an exception. So fire from the heavens hit a famous church—what about all the Unitarian churches that brazenly deny orthodox Christian doctrines, not to mention the Muslim mosques and Hindu temples? If God consistently punished bad doctrine with lightning bolts, the planet would sparkle nightly like a Christmas tree.

That image of God’s finger pointing the way for lightning bolts, however, started me thinking. What if God arranged things so that we would experience a mild jolt of pain with every sin, and a tickle of pleasure with every act of virtue? What if every errant doctrine did indeed attract a lightning bolt, while every repetition of the Apostles’ Creed stimulated our brains to produce an endorphin of ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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