The Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

by Rick Pidcock 

Over the past few weeks, much has been discussed about the Minneapolis bridge collapse that took the lives of a number of people and caused great calamity to that city.  And during these times, we are left to ponder the question “Why would God allow this to happen?”

The way we answer this question reveals what we primarily believe about God–whether God is God-centered or man-centered in His sovereign dealing with creation.  And what we believe to be true of God will determine how we respond, either with God-centered worship or with man-centered worship.

 So I would like to point you to two opposite view points on the bridge collapse.  The first view point is the man-centered view of God.  And the second view point is the God-centered view of God.

As you read these responses, ask yourself, “How is this view of God man-centered or God-centered?  How would this view cause me to respond in worship differently than the other view?”

Feel free to share your thoughts.

THE MAN-CENTERED VIEW

written by Dr. Roger Olsen of Baylor University

“Where was God several weeks ago when the interstate bridge collapsed in Minneapolis?

I crossed that bridge numerous times during my 15-year life in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Watching the disaster unfold on television brought back memories. I could envision what’s off to the sides of the bridge — downtown Minneapolis in one direction and the University of Minnesota in the other.

What a strange calamity. A modern, seemingly well-engineered bridge in a major metropolitan area collapsed in a moment without any forewarning of danger.

Something similar could happen to any of us anytime. Similar things do happen to us or people just like us — innocent bystanders passing through life are suddenly blindsided by some weird tragedy.

So where is God when seemingly pointless calamity strikes? Some religious folks say, “It was God’s will.” Let’s just focus on Christians here.

A well-known Christian author and speaker pastors a church within a mile of the collapsed bridge. To him and his followers, God foreordained, planned and indirectly (if not directly) caused the event.

A popular Christian band sings “There is a reason” for everything. They mean God renders everything certain and has a good purpose for whatever happens. The pastor and the band are Christian determinists. Both happen to adhere to a form of Protestant theology called Calvinism.

This theology is sweeping up thousands of impressionable young Christians. It provides a seemingly simple answer to the problem of evil. Even what we call evil is planned and rendered certain by God because it is necessary for a greater good.

But wait. What about God’s character? Is God, then, the author of evil? Most Calvinists don’t want to say it. But logic seems to demand it. If God plans something and renders it certain, how is he not culpable for it? Here is where things get murky.

Some Calvinists will say he’s not guilty because he has a good intention for the event — to bring good out of it, but the Bible expressly forbids doing evil for the sake of good.

Many conservative Christians wince at the idea that God is limited. But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

That seems more like the God of the Bible than the all-determining deity of Calvinism.

In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, “OK, not my will then, but thine be done — for now.”

And God says, “Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that’s one of my self-limitations. I don’t want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world.”

It’s a different picture of God than most conservative Christians grew up with, but it’s the only one (so far as I can tell) that relieves God of responsibility for sin and evil and disaster and calamity.

The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil. If you’ve come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.”

  —Dr. Roger Olsen, Baylor University

THE GOD-CENTERED VIEW

written by Dr. John Piper of Desiring God Ministries

“At about 6 PM tonight the bridge of Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. I am writing this about three hours after the bridge fell. The bridge is located within sight of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Most of us who minister at the church cross this bridge several times a week. At this point I don’t know if any staff was on the bridge. Desiring God offices are about a mile from the bridge.

There are no firm facts at this point about the total number of injuries and fatalities. When we crossed the bridge Tuesday on our way out of town, there was extensive repair work happening on the surface of the bridge with single lane traffic. One speculates about the unusual stresses on the bridge with jackhammers and other surface replacement equipment. This was the fortieth anniversary of the bridge.

Tonight for our family devotions our appointed reading was Luke 13:1-9. It was not my choice. This is surely no coincidence. O that all of the Twin Cities, in shock at this major calamity, would hear what Jesus has to say about it from Luke 13:1-5. People came to Jesus with heart-wrenching news about the slaughter of worshipers by Pilate. Here is what he said.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “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. 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.”

Jesus implies that those who brought him this news thought he would say that those who died, deserved to die, and that those who didn’t die did not deserve to die. That is not what he said. He said, everyone deserves to die. And if you and I don’t repent, we too will perish. This is a stunning response. It only makes sense from a view of reality that is radically oriented on God.

All of us have sinned against God, not just against man. This is an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge. That any human is breathing at this minute on this planet is sheer mercy from God. God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on those who do not treasure him above all else. He causes the heart to beat and the lungs to work for millions of people who deserve his wrath. This is a view of reality that desperately needs to be taught in our churches, so that we are prepared for the calamities of the world.

The meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that John Piper is a sinner and should repent or forfeit his life forever. That means I should turn from the silly preoccupations of my life and focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on God and embrace Jesus Christ as my only hope for the forgiveness of my sins and for the hope of eternal life. That is God’s message in the collapse of this bridge. That is his most merciful message: there is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which he is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world.

We prayed during our family devotions. Talitha (11 years old) and Noel and I prayed earnestly for the families affected by the calamity and for the others in our city. Talitha prayed “Please don’t let anyone blame God for this but give thanks that they were saved.” When I sat on her bed and tucked her in and blessed her and sang over her a few minutes ago, I said, “You know, Talitha, that was a good prayer, because when people ‘blame’ God for something, they are angry with him, and they are saying that he has done something wrong. That’s what “blame” means: accuse somebody of wrongdoing. But you and I know that God did not do anything wrong. God always does what is wise. And you and I know that God could have held up that bridge with one hand.” Talitha said, “With his pinky.” “Yes,” I said, “with his pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills.”

Talitha said, “Maybe he let it fall because he wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear him.” “Yes, Talitha,” I said, “I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall.”

I sang to her the song I always sing,

Come rest your head and nestle gently
And do not fear the dark of night.
Almighty God keeps watch intently,
And guards your life with all his might.
Doubt not his love, nor power to keep,
He never fails, nor does he sleep.

I said, “You know, Talitha, that is true whether you die in a bridge collapse, or in a car accident, or from cancer, or terrorism, or old age. God always keeps you, even when you die. So you don’t need to be afraid, do you.” “No,” she shook her head. I leaned down and kissed her. “Good night. I love you.”

Tonight across the Twin Cities families are wondering if they will ever kiss a loved one good night again. Some will not. I am praying that they will find Jesus Christ to be their Rock and Refuge in these agonizing hours of uncertainty and even loss.

The word “bridge” does not occur in the Bible. There may be two reasons. One is that God doesn’t build bridges, he divides seas. The other is that usually his people must pass through the deadly currents of suffering and death, not simply ride over them. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43:2). They may drown you. But I will be with you in life and death.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-38)

Killed all day long. But not separated from Christ. We go through the river. Not over it. He went before us, crucified. He came out on the other side. He knows the way through. With him we will make it. That is the message we have for the precious sinners in the Twin Cities. He died for your sins. He rose again. He saves all who trust him. We die, but because of him, we do not die.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25)

Talitha is sleeping now. But one day she will die. I teach her this. I will not always be there to bless her. But Jesus is alive and is the same yesterday today and forever. He will be with her because she trusts him. And she will make it through the river.

Weeping with those who weep, and those who should,

Pastor John

Psalm 71:20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again.”

–John Piper of Desiring God Ministries

In closing, consider these words from Isaiah 47:7 which say, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

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3 thoughts on “The Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

  1. Okay, so I took Dr. Olsen’s advice. I thought about the ramifications for God’s character if we have the kind of God Piper describes.

    I have a God who is perfect in every dimension of His glory. I am not. That means I can’t wrap my brain around Him. There are many paradoxes of Scripture that I cannot adequately explain – but that doesn’t give me the right to dismiss them with nifty little truisms. If we are fallen, then our logic is fallen as well – and we’d be wise not to blindly follow what “logic seems to demand” about God and life. We’d be far wiser to let the Bible says what it says and not feel the compulsion to reconcile truths that are not at odds.

    I have a God who is both in charge and in control. God reigns over all with absolute sovereignty. If God isn’t in control, then He isn’t worth worshiping. If God says, “Hey, I’m in charge here,” but He’s not in control, then let’s face it – He’s really not in charge. He’s just like everybody else who tries to hold authority by demand rather than by worth. But Jesus healed and created and redeemed and silenced the winds and called forth the dead with his spoken word. What more would you like him to do to prove to you he controls all things?

    I have an infinitely holy God. He is not the source of sin. He does not tempt or cause people to sin. He is not forcing sinners to sin for utilitarian reasons. He is completely set apart from all that is evil. He has the same relationship to sin as light has to darkness. Where people have shut Him out, sin abounds. Where He enters with healing grace, sin is forgiven and abolished. Because of His perfection, sovereignty, and holiness, God is not limited by sin. Rather, He is perfectly, sinlessly sovereign over that as well.

    Why, Dr. Olsen, would I hold out any hope whatsoever that God will make all things right in the end if He isn’t in control today? If your God isn’t the absolute Sovereign today, what makes you think He will be tomorrow, or a year from now, or ten thousand years from now? If God can’t intervene to stop suffering today, what makes you think He’ll be able to intervene when sin is multiplied in the earth? If 100 pounds of sin incapacitates God, to any degree, today, then imagine what 200 pounds of sin will do to Him.

    And if sin incapacitates God to any degree, then God was incapacitated at the point in time when He should have been most responsible – during the hours that His Son Jesus hung on a cross to die. What we’re left with is a God who couldn’t save His own Son. That certainly changes the Gospel, doesn’t it? Why should I believe that Jesus’ death is good news for me if God did not plan it in advance for the redemption of all things in Christ? Why would I believe for a second that God can save me from my sin when He couldn’t even save His own Son from the damning, death-dealing blow of sin?

    Thanks, Dr. Olsen, for laying down the challenge of considering the character of God. I’m more convinced then ever that four grandparents are enough – I don’t need a fifth one named “God.” I’m content to walk by faith in the clear teaching of Scripture and trust in the Redeemer “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

  2. I’m not a doctor of theology, but it seems evident even to me that if God is only good when we approve His will, then He is no longer God… we have just usurped His place.

    I’m more than willing to accept that God has a purpose for events that is radically different from my own grossly limited and sin-stained perspective.

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