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Questions and Answers

How could God have allowed the [space shuttle] Columbia disaster? These were good people, with families, doing good work for science and their countries.

Outline of the Answer
• An Intricate Interplay of Human Free Will
• Overconfidence in Human Reason
• “Rest Assurred”
• A Warning

If there’s a theological lesson to be learned from the sudden disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia in January 2003—and the tragic loss of the crewmember’s lives—the lesson is not to be found in the virtue or morality of the crew. God will judge their personal lives and their work, but the disaster itself should not be seen as a direct act of God. Instead, it should be understood in the context of an intricate interplay of human free will that points to one chillingly simple issue: overconfidence in human reason.

Overconfidence in Human Reason

When the insulation from the fuel tank struck the shuttle’s left wing at liftoff, the mission could have been called off on the spot. Had the shuttle been brought back immediately to the ground, engineers might have discovered the true extent of the damage, or they might have discovered some other pre-existing structural problems. Of course, the decision to cancel the mission would have had an enormous cost, financially and politically. Therefore, it was decided, according to pragmatism, honor, and human reason, that there was no danger to the spacecraft, and the mission continued—and lives were doomed.

“Rest Assurred”

So consider that decision. Rest assured, we see no danger to the mission. Such is the assurance of reason. Yet disaster might have been averted had the engineers stepped back from their human confidence and asked, “But what if we’re wrong?”

Yes, but what if we’re wrong? If only we had such love for God to allow ourselves to ask that question. So consider some other common statements based in love for human reason rather than love for God. We don’t see any harm in lifestyles defiant of chastity. We don’t see any harm in gay “marriage.” We don’t see any harm in loosening the prohibitions about divorce. We don’t see any harm in artificial birth control. We don’t see any harm in abortion. These are all assurances made by those who dissent from the true Faith of the Church. And fine assurances they are. Remember the Columbia.

A Warning

Therefore, the lesson here is a lesson about warning. If you put all of your trust in your own self-confidence, you’re headed for eventual disaster—and you could contribute to sending others to their doom as well. But if you understand the mystic ramifications of God’s love, and humbly accept and surrender to that love despite the inconvenience, and let it be your guide in every moment of uncertainty, then you do have good reason to rest assured.


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Disasters and Trauma by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. explains how an event is traumatic because it disrupts your previously secure sense of self. Wild animals live with a constant, sharp awareness of perpetual danger, yet most people live with a naive—and deceptive—sense of safety and security to the point of denying their basic vulnerability and fragmented sense of self. So when something disastrous happens, the psychological damage from the shattering of your illusions about life and identity may be more problematic than any physical damage.

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