Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Heartbreak in West Virginia

I went to bed last night thinking that 12 West Virginia miners had been discovered alive. A miracle.

That miracle was snatched away this morning when I opened the paper: Most of the miners were dead, killed by carbon monoxide. The miners' families and, to a lesser extent, America itself had been victimized by a horrible misunderstanding.

Our own Gazette got the news wrong at first: 30,000 papers were sent out bearing the "miracle" before wire services amended the story. It's a hard truth for a newspaper to own up to -- one that prides itself on getting the news right at least most of the time.

But that's a hangnail. What these miners' families are going through is infinitely worse ... perhaps riding the most terrible roller-coaster that a human being can ride. Before the miners' fate was known, the families gathered at a Baptist church to find some comfort in each other, to pray for a miracle. For a time, it looked as if their prayers had been answered.

Then, in the cold morning hours, the miracle was ripped away. Life was taken. Life was given. Life was taken again.

The whole thing brings up just a host of difficult theological, spiritual questions that a makeshift religion writer cannot answer and hesitates to ask. Where can God be found in this? Was He in the mineshaft? In the church with those families? Why did He not grant the miracle that so many were praying for?

It's tough stuff. Even the most educated of theologians, most fervent of believers, have difficulty in finding answers in situations like these. I wonder what these families are thinking and feeling right now. I wonder how many are cursing their God right now, and how many are clinging to Him even more desperately.

It's these times that horrify and fascinate me, as a religion writer. Where is faith in the darkest places? Where is God in the pit of a gas-choked mine? As these miners slipped away, did they fall into unconsciousness? Or were they simply called home?


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