Today, with new satellite imagery from the Brits, officials are nearly certain that Malaysia Flight #370 crashed into the Indian Ocean. Over the next few days officials will probably be able to find some type of debris in the ocean that confirms this new satellite data. As someone who served as a Marine Air Traffic Control officer and who lost a relative in a plane crash (my father's body was never recovered in the Atlantic Ocean), I've been closely following the search and rescue efforts. I was deeply saddened when I heard about the initial loss of the aircraft, and have been perplexed by the strange, known movements of the aircraft that have been disclosed on the news networks. I know the family members are distraught with this new information, since they were clinging onto the hope that somehow the aircraft might have landed somewhere on the possible northern route into Asia.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things the grievers face is the lack of a body. An airplane crash makes it even more dramatic, too, since the loved one is seen by friends and family one moment only to take off on a plane the next and never be seen again. A body provides closure. A vast ocean with fathomless depths fills the mind with ungraspable questions. Did my loved one suffer? Was it traumatic? Did they have time for any last thoughts? Did they survive the crash only to die in the open ocean? Is their body sitting in the plane at the bottom of the ocean? Or is it floating on the surface? Then there are the deeper questions. Why did this happen to them? What if they'd taken an earlier or later flight? If only. The "what if" scenarios can play out in your mind forever.
This Could Have Been Any of Us
Then there's the question some may be thinking but probably not voicing: Were these people worse than others who arrived safely in Beijing on different flights that day? One idea prevalent in many world religions, including much of the modern West, is karma—good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. If we obey God and help others, in other words, God is obligated to give us longevity of life, nice possessions, healthy relationships, and good health. But if we're selfish and harm others, we're doomed to a terrible existence and possibly tragic death.
The reality according to the Bible, however, is that "good people" don't exist. We are all sinners deserving death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Paul puts it like this: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom. 3:11-12). Even Christians, he later says, are still subject to pain and even tragic death: "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:22-23).
So the answer to the question is that these people who perished were no worse than you and me. They were all sinners in need of grace. Perhaps some were even Christians. Considering the large Christian population in China, and that most of the passengers were Chinese, this is quite likely. But because of sin, we are all subject to death, perhaps even a tragic death like this one. And I think that's what's captivated so many about MH370. We've all played the scenario out in our minds. What if this were my parents, my wife, my husband, my children? What if I were on that jet?
Tragic Death Reminds Us to Flee to Christ
When I was a boy, God used my father's tragic death (he was a Christian) to open my eyes to the sudden reality and finality of death and judgment. He used it as a beacon to lead me to Jesus.
And that is Christ's intent for we who are following the search for this missing jet.
Some people once asked Jesus about a tragedy in which some Jews, who'd been worshiping in Galilee, had been slaughtered by Pontius Pilate. Jesus replied, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2-3).
Jesus' point is that every one of us is a sinner deserving death and that death often comes unexpectedly, bringing us before the judgment of God. People who experience tragedy are no more deserving than we are. The suddenness of death reminds us to repent of sin and flee to Christ Jesus, so that we can escape eternal death in hell. That's what Jesus is talking about. He continues: "Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:4-5). (For a helpful theological explanation of this passage, see R. C. Sproul's article "When Towers Fall.")
What does Jesus mean by using the word repent? He's talking about more than a guilty conscience or convicted feeling regarding something we've done wrong. He's referring to a change of heart about who we are as people (sinners before God) and who Christ is (our righteous sin-bearer). As John MacArthur explains, "[Repentance] is a spiritual turning, a total about-face. In the context of the new birth [it] means turning from sin to the Savior."
How We Should Respond to Malaysian Flight #370?
So how do we respond to this new information that MH370 crashed in the ocean?
- We should pray for those grieving that they'll find out as much as possible about the last moments of their loved ones' lives, and perhaps even find their loved one's body.
- We should remind ourselves that we too are still subject to death, and in fact will all die, unless Christ returns. We must continually look to our Savior, then, who has conquered death for us.
- We should look for opportunities to share the hope of Christ Jesus, since everyone we know will also face death and ultimately stand before God in judgment.
- We should thank God that those in Christ will experience a resurrection of life. Paul declares: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'" (1 Cor. 15:52-55). And this resurrection unto life includes the bodies of saints that have been lost at sea.
I would love to hear your thoughts about how God has used tragedy in your life to bring you or others to deeper (or perhaps saving) faith in Christ.