A world of chaos and catastrophe

Monday 31 August 2015

Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? That the universe is a place of intricate connections, infinite and infinitely-sized cogs spinning in total synchronicity with each other?

An extraordinary harmonic creation, impossible for human minds to perceive but in plain sight to God and his angels?

Or do we live in a random, hopelessly chaotic jumble, happenstance and coincidence the twin gods of misrule, a place where a only a combination of low cunning and blind luck protect us from catastrophe?

I ask because such existential questions have formed much of the backdrop to the week’s two big stories: the foiling of a terrorist attack on a high-speed train in France and the ghastly air crash at Shoreham, West Sussex.

In the case of the former it was a complete fluke that off-duty US military men were on the train. They had planned to take another.

It was also a matter of random chance that they happened to be in the carriage close to where the gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani began what would doubtless have turned into a rampage but for the Americans’ (and a British businessman’s) brave intervention (Khazzani had 270 rounds of ammunition, he would have slaughtered scores of passengers).

But perhaps it wasn’t a fluke those men were in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Perhaps God put them there, or one of His guardian angels.

But if so why did heaven’s rulers choose to shun that beach in Tunisia? Where were they when the Charlie Hebdo staff were liquidated?

God’s “infinite mercy” seems to have finite limits from where I’m standing.

Some of the bereaved in the wake of Shoreham have understandably been replaying the timing of their loved ones’ final moments.

“If only he’d left the house 30 seconds later,” sobbed one young woman who lost her fiancé in the giant fireball when the jet thundered down.

Others, who survived, have been going through much the same process but in reverse. “If I’d been driving just a fraction slower, I would have died,” one said.

“The plane missed me by inches.” A woman who saw the doomed fighter plunging directly towards her windscreen floored the accelerator and escaped death by a whisker.

A spectator standing just 10 feet from a group of onlookers survived with minor burns – she says she saw them wiped out. “Why me?” she asks.

“Why was I spared and not them?” In the wake of such events, mankind belatedly tries to assert control. Stunt flying by vintage jets has been banned.

Rail networks are discussing ways of tightening security. And so on and so forth.

This produces the comforting illusion that we can avert disaster. We can’t of course, which brings me back to the central question: is everything meant, planned, ordained and as impossible to dodge as a speeding bullet?

Or is our existence as out-of-control as a runaway train, we passengers grimly clinging on for dear life and praying for deliverance?

If it’s the latter those prayers seem to be answered with the type of capriciousness displayed by the likes of Caligula, despots who enjoy sadistically toying with their helpless subjects’ lives. Begging for God’s mercy?

Is it worth the candle? Only if He is feeling in a good mood.

Read Richard and Judy's Express column in full here.
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