When Princess Diana died, I got a phone call from a television producer. "Can you appear on our show?" he asked. "We want you to explain how God could possibly allow such a terrible accident."

I could not make the television appearance, but his question prompted me to dig out a file folder in which I have stashed notes of things for which God gets blamed:

At the 1994 Winter Olympics, when speed skater Dan Jansen's hand scraped the ice, causing him to lose the 500-meter race, his wife, Robin, cried out, "Why, God, again? God can't be that cruel!"
A young woman wrote James Dobson this letter: "Four years ago, I was dating a man and became pregnant. I was devastated! I asked God, 'Why have You allowed this to happen to me?' "
In a professional bout, boxer Ray "Boom-Boom" Mancini slammed his Korean opponent with a hard right, causing a massive cerebral hemorrhage. At a press conference after the Korean's death, Mancini said, "Sometimes I wonder why God does the things he does."
Susan Smith, who pushed her two sons into a lake to drown, then blamed a black car-jacker for the deed, wrote in her official confession: "I dropped to the lowest point when I allowed my children to go down that ramp into the water without me. I took off running and screaming 'Oh God! Oh God, no! What have I done? Why did you let this happen?'"

Exactly what role did God play in a speed skater losing control on a turn or a teenage couple losing control in a back seat, not to mention the lethal effect of a boxer's punch or a mother's premeditated act of violence? And as for Princess Di's accident, could it have had something to do with a drunk driver going 85 mph in a narrow tunnel?

I once watched a television interview with a famous Hollywood actress whose lover had rolled off a yacht in a drunken stupor and drowned. The actress, who probably had not thought about God in months, looked at the camera, her lovely face contorted by grief, and asked, bizarrely, "How could a loving God let this happen?" Perhaps something similar lay behind the television producer's question. Pain, "God's megaphone" in C. S. Lewis's phrase, shouts so loudly that we cannot ignore it. Exposed as frail and mortal, we lash out against someone who is not: God.

Following the footsteps (hoofprints?) of Screwtape, I have tried looking at current events from a more diabolical point of view. Instead of asking, "How could God possibly allow this to happen?" I ask, "How could Satan possibly allow it?" So viewed, even the tragic death of Princess Diana takes on a different cast.

At a time of grief and shock and mourning, the secular United Kingdom, where barely one person in 20 attends church regularly, had nowhere else to turn but to church. Where else can any of us take our grief and find a ray of hope? Over two billion people worldwide, more than Billy Graham has preached to in his lifetime, tuned in to watch a magnificent Anglican service. Celebrities who have not attended church since childhood crowded in the door.

Consider a more fundamental question: "How could Satan allow Diana to squander her life as she did?" Like other princesses, she could have spent her days at the roulette tables in Monaco. Instead, she cradled AIDS babies in London, embraced leprosy patients in Africa and amputees in Bosnia, sat and visited with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.

(Ah, yes, that other funeral one week later: How could Satan allow the life of Mother Teresa? She had a fine career, doing little damage, teaching geography to students at an elite school for wealthy Brahmins. However did she slip away to devote herself to the destitute? What a tragedy for Screwtape's cause! Nor could hell rejoice in her death when her adopted nation, 97 percent non-Christian, decided to honor her with a state funeral.)

I know nothing of Princess Diana's personal faith, but because of my collaborations with surgeon Paul Brand, I do know of the great good she did for the cause of leprosy. The princess was patroness of the Leprosy Mission, which ministers to the world's 12 million victims of leprosy. Most of the medical advances in leprosy have come from Christian missionaries, often the only ones willing to work with the afflicted. Gradually these faithful servants solved leprosy's riddles, exposed its myths, and refined effective treatments. Yet leprosy rarely attracted much media attention until Princess Diana.

Surely Screwtape cannot be pleased that memorial gifts for the princess will go to help sufferers from two terrible plagues, AIDS and leprosy, as well as to benefit an organization that paints red crosses on its ambulances.

Many a preacher and newscaster have noted the irony of two of the world's most famous women dying within a few days of each other. Most such reports focus on their differences. Looking back, what strikes me is a profound similarity: The young, tall, beautiful princess with a new outfit for every occasion and the old, short, homely nun who wore the same outfit on every occasion are both remembered primarily for their compassion for the neglected and despised. How could Screwtape possibly allow such a tragedy?

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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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