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FIRST-PERSON: As we watch the tragedy unfold

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–Another space shuttle disaster. We all remember when and where we first got the news on Challenger. (I was in the Malvern, Ark., library doing midday research on a revival that happened south of town.) We’ll all remember when and where we heard this latest sad news.

Listening to early reports about the unfolding Columbia tragedy, a number of things have come to mind:

1. This didn’t catch God by surprise. He is sovereign, and his purposes will be served. Men are neither sovereign, omniscient, nor pure, and they should exercise great caution in speaking for God in their analyses of this event.

2. Few nations on earth can even dream of having such a disaster, the loss of their spacecraft. Yesterday, I was talking to the pastor of a church which was bursting its seams. He was suffering the stress that comes from building a staff to handle the growing workload. I reminded him that that was a problem most pastors can only dream of having.

3. It’s time, once again, for a “Schadenfreude” watch. This is a great German word for taking delight in another’s misfortune, for loving to hate. Remember the celebrations in certain sectors on 9/11? We learned a lot about some people from their behavior in the wake of that crime.

I once read that men normally watch a pretty girl when she walks into a room, but that a psychologist watches the men as they watch her. While watching the tragedy unfold, it’s worth a glance now and then at the reaction of the other watchers. In particular, keep your eyes peeled for those who loved the loss of the Israeli.

4. The world would do well to watch how we correct the problem that wrecked Columbia. It is a beautiful thing to see America at work, solving problems — the research, the free debate, the retooling, the advance.

5. I wonder who’ll be the first to suggest that we should mourn the lost rodents from Columbia’s science experiments as deeply as we mourn the lost men and women. Who’ll first caution us against “speciesism?” PETA? Peter Singer of Princeton University?

6. There have been more than 100 space shuttle flights, with only two crashes, a death rate of less than 2 percent. The American womb is a far more dangerous place. Because of abortion, more than 30 percent of the occupants don’t survive. At least the astronauts agreed to the risks when they entered their life-support capsule.

7. God has made an amazingly resilient creature in man. Challenger threw us and we got right back up on the horse. Technology may break down, but humanity keeps on going.

8. In 1893, the fastest manmade vehicle ever (a steam locomotive now housed at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry) traveled 112.5 mph. A hundred years later, in 1993, Space Shuttle Columbia made two trips (April and October), traveling Mach 18 or 13,352 mph. Makes you wonder what the world can expect in 2093, should the Lord tarry.

9. When you wake up in the morning in Stamps, Ark., or Nagadoches, Texas, you never know if you’ll be on the world stage in minutes. Something could come from the sky without a moment’s notice — even the Lord.

10. I thank God for a president who, as “Comforter in Chief,” quotes Isaiah and testifies to the majesty his Lord.
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger