It was like death had played a cruel prank

For a week, I was glued to news updates on the status and stories of three ill-fated passenger airlines. My heart went out to the passengers who were killed and their grieving family members. It could very well have been someone I knew.

The outpouring of grief seemed to be global in what was probably the worst week in the history of the aviation industry. The number of casualties just kept adding up—298 killed onboard a Malaysia Airlines plane, 48 killed on a Taiwanese aircraft, 118 killed in an Air Algerie plane.

Amid the tragedies, there were a myriad of stories: some of relief, some mixed sentiments, and others devastation. One which caught my attention involved a couple; both husband and wife were crew members. The wife skirted death when she swapped out of an earlier plane that eventually disappeared (and is yet to be found). But their joy was short-lived when the plane her husband was on crashed four months later after he also switched flights.

It was like death had played a cruel prank on them. If only he didn’t swap shift at the very last minute. It begs the questions: Why did some manage to skirt death, while others didn’t? Was it still safe to fly following the string of air disasters?

Such fear and anxiety were expected. After all, who could have anticipated three major airplane crashes in a year, much less within a week? The climate of anxiety and unease was recognized by one airline, which said it was offering full refunds to customers who were thinking of cancelling their tickets in light of its airline disaster.

“Should we change our flights?” a colleague asked me one day. We were due to travel to the United States in the third quarter of the year. That started a discussion on death and whether we could actually “escape” it. The answer was obvious to us—almost as immediately as the discussion began.

In Psalm 139, the psalmist gives a beautiful description of our lives being in the hands of God. The Lord is the one who creates us; He determines how long we live and when we die.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” —Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)

God also determines our place of dwelling.

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” —Acts 17:26 (ESV)

While “skirting” or “escaping” death may have seemed to be what had happened for those who missed the ill-fated aircrafts, the Bible makes it clear that death comes at an appointed time for us all. We cannot escape death. Grim and morbid as it sounds, knowing that my life is in God’s hands is strangely comforting. Nothing happens at random, whether disastrous calamities, dreadful killings, or debilitating illnesses. And even though at times we may not fully understand why things happen, God is still in control. Let us continue to trust in His unfailing character.

Endnote: So what was my reply to my colleague’s question? I told him: “If it’s our time to go, changing flights wouldn’t make a difference.” But having said that, I know the pain and grief death brings to those left behind, having lost my own father to a sudden stroke last year. So, to the families grieving over the recent flight disasters, may God grant you grace and comfort to get through these difficult times.

1 reply
  1. Joel
    Joel says:

    Great reminder amidst this time that seems so barren of hope.

    One thing that struck me recently while reading all those articles of death and also while i read your article, is that the biggest fear of Man is really death. And it’s like Jesus winked at us and said “Got that covered!”. Him dying and rising has taken our biggest fear of death away.
    “O death, where is thy sting, O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

    Thanks Joanna, keep writing for God.


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