Flight 370 and a sea of questions


As I write this, the mystery persists with dwindling hopes for closure. An airliner and 239 people have disappeared, vanished from the sky and likely swallowed by the sea.

It is an agonizing ordeal for families of the disappeared and deeply troubling for our thoroughly connected world (Seventeen nationalities are among the missing). “How?” we ask. “Why?” And is it even possible to answer those questions until we know “where”?

An international search effort, the tracking of satellite pings, and some remarkable computations have managed to “narrow” the search to an area of the Indian Ocean roughly the size of Utah. That’s 85,000 square miles of water veiling water veiling vast and churning depths.

In his great revelation, John proclaims, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more (Rev. 21:1). That odd addition makes sense now, doesn’t it? The sea, so long the place of monsters and devilish storms, still has the power to terrify and overwhelm us.

Theories of “how” already are being tested, with the focus now on the crew. We cannot tolerate uncertainty and randomness, but sometimes even the most logical answers prove unsatisfying.

That such a tragedy could come down to a lone crew member is as unsettling as the single gunman of Dallas or Memphis. So, already conspiracy theories are being conjured. Sometimes “simple” is just too much to bear.

When we have the facts, will our questions be answered? “Closure” is a seductive concept, but for those closest to tragedy it can be as illusive as the horizon at sea.

What do we do with the inexplicable? Where is hope when all hope is lost?

“How” can bring its clarity. “Where” can focus our grief. But in the end, it is the “Why” that haunts us. Is the answer found in the power of evil or in the mysterious will of God? Or does the wheel of chance simply spin?

Like Job, I’m not quite satisfied with any of the answers for suffering, but, also like Job, I find what I need in God’s presence. For Job, it was the whirlwind; for me, it’s the cross.

Our God does not sit beyond the clouds pulling strings to test us. The cross declares God’s presence in Christ — not just in moments of worship or joy, but also in those moments of chilling doubt and searing pain.

When words and answers fail, presence can sustain. “I am with you.” The one who set the limits of the sea holds the mysteries of that sea in scarred hands. There is something beyond the mystery; there is life beyond the pain.

We United Methodists have a prayer we offer at gravesides:

“O God, you have ordered this wonderful world and know all things in earth and in heaven. Give us such faith that by day and by night, at all times and in all places, we may without fear commit ourselves and those dear to us to your never-failing love, in this life and in the life to come. Amen.”

And so we pray, even as we continue to search for answers in the vastness of the sea.

[The Rev. Mark Westmoreland is senior pastor of Fayetteville First United Methodist Church. His email is mwestmoreland@fayettevillefirst.com.]