As most of you will have heard, a party from an Auckland christian school went canyoning yesterday in Tongariro, and six children and their teacher drowned as waters rose, and they were washed away. This is tragic, absolutely tragic -- utterly heartbreaking for everyone involved -- and since it helps to talk, I'm going to talk.
Murray Burton, the principal of the school, said that the group were discovered missing when other students gathered after canyoning down the Mangatepopo river — a technique combining hiking, climbing and swimming... It is a fairly standard sort of activity. [ref: London Times]
Well, yes, it's "fairly standard," but since your adventure takes place in a river system in a mountain range, it's also highly dependent on weather. Twenty-one canyoners died in Switzerland in 1999 when heavy rain caused the canyon to flood, and without any means of escape, they perished: rainwater has to go somewhere, and where it goes when it rains is down the river system. If you're not prepared, you can die of it.
Two questions would have screamed out for an answer to most of us when we heard the news:
- On a day when we all woke up to news of heavy rain and happy farmers around the North Island, what the hell were they doing in the bloody canyon?
I guess we'll hear answers to that question in due course. It's a question that needs answering, and some angry people will be asking it very loudly.
- Here's another question that needs answering, and it's one that a lot of children will have been asking this morning: When these young christians died yesterday, where was their God?
When they left their christian school en route to their adventure, and no doubt prayed to God to keep them all safe, where was God? When they prayed that morning for success in their trek and God's guidance to get them through it safely, where was God? When they listened that morning to the weather forecast, which would have told them that heavy rain was on the way, where was their brain -- and where was God? When the heavy rain began flooding down the canyon and they first knew they were in danger, and no doubt prayed to God again ... where was God?
It's the same question any honest person must have in every disaster. It's a question that must have occurred to many of you when 75 people were killed in Australia's Ash Wednesday bushifires. Or when 87,350 were killed in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. Or when thousands die in a Venezualan mudslide, a Yangtze flood, or a Bangladeshi cyclone. Or when the Boxing Day Tsunami snuffed out the lives of more than 225,000 people. Or when a million people died in the Ethiopian famine?
What the hell is this 'god' doing?
According to his adherents, he's supposed to be all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good -- and one famous argument for his existence argues that "part of what we mean when we speak of God is 'perfect being'" (and if he's not all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good -- and perfect -- then what would make him god anyway?). So where was he, this omnipotent being, and what the hell was he doing when seven of his adherents put themselves in his hands? Didn't he want to look after 'his' children?
I think you know the answer.
NB: Kudos to Newstalk ZB host Leighton Smith, who's had the courage to ask callers this question on his radio show this morning.
UPDATE: Wording altered slightly.