Monday, June 28, 2010

Higher Purpose to Falling Limbs?

I’m going to go out on a limb here – you’ll catch the pun in a moment – and put a voice to a question I’ve been mulling ever since a baby was killed by a falling tree branch in Central Park this past weekend:

Was this a surgical strike? Did God “take her out?”

Not Just Another Crazy New York Story

In our youth-worshipping culture, it seems abhorrent to suggest that killing a baby makes some kind of sense. Even most church people would probably be angry with the idea. But I’ll go ahead and ask anyway – and hereby forever disqualify myself for church nursery duty – if, of all the trees, and all the sidewalks, and all the people, in all of New York City’s vast Central Park this past weekend: why this branch and this baby?

For those of you who didn’t hear the news, you can probably figure out by reading this far that yes indeed, a falling tree branch near the popular Central Park Zoo killed a baby and critically injured her mother. Was it just another weird story from a city famous for weird stories? Or is there more that we can't see?

From all appearances, the tree and the branch were healthy. The location of this tragedy is a high-pedestrian-traffic area located near a Central Park Conservancy facility and the only zoo on Manhattan island (well, aside from Times Square and pockets of SoHo); these trees aren’t in some overgrown area off of the beaten path that is rarely maintained. Indeed, all of Central Park can be considered one of the most well-groomed plots of land in the world.

Tragedy, Yes; Accident, No

From God’s perspective, this wasn’t an accident, was it? He didn’t have one of His angels rush into His presence Saturday afternoon after taking tree inventory and discovering one of their branches was missing. This baby was chosen by God to suffer this fate in the arms of her mother on this day for a reason.

We’ve heard of the military’s use of the term “surgical strike” to describe the intricate killing of a person or group of people from thousands of feet – or hundreds of miles – away. Many evangelical believers give lip service to the notion that God is indeed in control of all things. Yet oftentimes, we fail to draw the obvious conclusion from current events: that incidents like the fallen-limb-killing Saturday are nothing other than a holy surgical strike.

Now, I’m not going to mention the names of the baby or her parents, because for my purposes here, it’s not about them. My intention isn’t to personalize this tragedy by putting names on the characters. They’re sinners just like you and I, although I don’t know what they may have done – or left undone – that would have invoked God’s particular action in this case. It may not even have been a punitive strike on God’s part. It may have always been His holy, sovereign plan to bring this child back to Heaven at this young age, since after all, our lives are not our own anyway. But even if it was a punitive strike, God has already made His judgment, so who are we to heap on the blame?

The fact that this child wasn’t anywhere close to an age of accountability means she is with Christ now, which is better than anything she could have ever done or become in her earthly life. We should pray that her family can be witnessed to this hope as they mourn her loss.

Look: Up In the Sky

Oddly enough, there have been at least one other death and a serious injury caused by falling tree limbs in Central Park within the past year or so. The latest incident happened this past February. Granted, with so many people visiting Central Park at any hour of the day, and with so many grand, old trees along well-used walkways, the chances of any branch falling and hitting somebody might be pretty strong. But really, what are the odds? How many branches fall during the dead of night, when nobody’s around? How many branches fall in the middle of the day and don’t hit anybody? To run a scientific test concerning the chances of being struck dead by a falling tree limb in Central Park would require significant effort, but I think we’re safe to assume that it’s a pretty rare occurrence. Otherwise, lawyers for the Central Park Conservancy would be issuing hardhats to every visitor, or closing off walkways.

If you’ve ever been to Central Park’s mall, where statues of poets are interspersed among ancient trees whose branches arc luxuriantly over the wide promenade, you’d think that would be an ideal place for branches to fall. Indeed, thick boughs cantilever over the walkway so densely that they create a veritable ceiling of bark, twigs, and leaves. While for decades it's made for a mystical stroll, I’m sure only now have pedestrians begun to see it as a possible deathtrap.

Some people say the tree limbs falling on Central Park visitors are freak accidents. Some have already voiced suspicions that either somebody isn’t pruning the park’s trees properly, or they’re unaware of some disease that is invisibly weakening the trees.

But deep down, we know better, don’t we?

It's the sovereignty of God. Just a little more exaggerated than usual.


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