Answering the atheist’s attack on a prayerful plane crash survivor: ‘You think God loves you more than Jennifer Riordan?’

The would-be plane crash is the doctrinaire atheist’s favorite example of the implausibility of God’s goodness. And it’s unfalsifiable. It usually goes something like this:

If the plane doesn’t crash, and people thank God for saving them, what about the people on the plane that did crash? Weren’t some of them praying? That must mean God’s distribution of beneficence is uneven and unfair, thus rendering Him unworthy of our praise.

And they’ll use it just as determinedly in a situation like the one that occurred in Philadelphia yesterday, in which a the engine of a Southwest Airlines jet exploded in mid-air, necessitating a crash landing. Only one passenger died – New Mexico resident Jennifer Riordan – and her death resulted from injuries she sustained when her window broke and she was partially sucked out of the plane.

I wrote about this earlier on Herman’s site, and included the same video I’ll show you here, which was shot by passenger Marty Martinez:

The video’s had more than a million views already, and many have remarked about how quiet the people in the cabin are. The speculation is that a lot of them are praying, and I’m sure that’s accurate, even if it’s not universal.

Presumably those who prayed to God that He would spare their lives later gave Him thanks because they did, indeed, survive.

So that brings us to the inevitable atheist objection, which we’ll go ahead and deal with proactively since you know it’s coming:

If you’re thanking God for saving you, are you suggesting God loved you more than he Jennifer Riordan, since he didn’t save her?

The quick answer is no, obviously not, but it worth some thought as to why the answer is no. There are two primary reasons – one having to do with His sovereignty and one having to do with the unmerited character of His grace.

Regarding His sovereignty, the response to the argument is simply that God doesn’t have to operating according to man’s notions of fairness. You don’t have to argue that Jennifer Riordan deserved to die, or that God loved her less, to recognize that God was entirely sovereign over her life, and was under no obligation to extend it any longer than He saw fit.

How ever many years she lived, they were a gift from God. No one of us is entitled to a day beyond what we’ve already received, so if we don’t receive any more days, we’re in no position to claim we were wronged.

But the matter of grace, I think, is the more powerful one to apply here.

When gratitude is really pure is when we put the focus of it entirely on the giver of the gift, and realize that it has nothing to do with us, the recipients. Even when you mention “I don’t deserve this” in the course of thanking someone, you’re tainting the gratitude a little because you’re bringing your own merit into the equation. You’re implying that if you had deserved it, you’d have less reason to be grateful.

But God’s gifts don’t work like that. When He gives them to us, it is all about His love and nothing whatsoever about our merit. He will sometimes delay the release of a blessing until we show we can be trusted with the gift, but even so, once He releases the gift it remains entirely a demonstration of His love and generosity.

So the person who thanks God for saving his or her life in a plane crash does not presume to elevate his or her own importance versus someone else who died. Indeed, the very fact that the gift of survival was irrelevant to your own merit is what calls all the more for the gratitude. You had no claim on God’s action to save you. No one did – from the best person to the worst. Everyone who benefits from His intervention must recognize that it was all about God and not at all about them.

So why is the answer no? That it isn’t true that God loved you more than He loved Jennifer Riordan? Because being loved by God is all about His goodness and not about our merit, and because no one of us is in a position to demand that God’s love take a certain form – not even the form of another day of life.

We can ask, and He will often grant our requests. But can’t put conditions on Him, and we can’t tell Him that if He really loves us He’ll do this or that for us.

That’s why pure, real gratitude is entirely focused on the giver of the gifts, not on the recipient nor even on the gift itself. And it’s why, if you do receive a wonderful gift from God, your only response should be to seek to honor Him with it. Because that’s what it was for in the first place.

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Powers and Principalities (2009): Twenty years ago, Clay Bender saw the face of spiritual evil with the naked eye while attending a party. Now, Clay’s terrifying spiritual gift returns, showing him that a supernatural threat is looming – one that could threaten everyone in Royal Oak. As the community grapples with bizarre electrical disturbances and a horrible train derailment, only Clay can recognize the true nature of the strange events, and he and his two closest friends have little time to battle the city’s demons – even as all three are forced to face their own. (Buy Now button for signed hard copy: $15.99. Amazon button for digital download: $2.99)

Pharmakeia (2010): Kyla Spears is being warned – in terrifying dreams – of grisly and violent tragedies looming for young people in Royal Oak. But her spiritually gifted friend Clay Bender is reluctant to help, and her feelings for one charming young man threaten her newfound spiritual integrity and her ability to face the truth about what’s really behind the threat. (Buy Now button for signed hard copy: $15.99. Amazon button for digital download: $2.99)


Dark Matter (2011): The miraculous resurrection of a young man is caught on video and broadcast to the nation, bringing the spotlight to Murphy Soles and a group of people who claim to be able to heal using a mysterious spiritual force they call the Dark Matter.  But Clay Bender can see that the phenomenon is demonic, and he is forced to race against time and battle his best friend to expose the deception and save the lives of thousands. (Buy Now button for signed hard copy: $15.99. Amazon button for digital download: $2.99)

Backstop (2017): Darius Wilson’s preacher father has always envisioned his son as his successor in the pulpit. Darius has another passion, though – baseball. And when the Detroit Tigers draft him, Darius defies his father and heads to Lakeland, Florida to pursue his dream. But what Darius has learned since childhood about the spiritual forces of evil comes into play when he realizes that Lakeland is home to a very dark presence. And without his father’s help, Darius may not have what it takes to fend off a threat that could bring tragedy to the entire Tigers organization. (Buy Now button for signed hard copy: $15.99. Amazon button for digital download: $2.99)