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Flight MH 370 - Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

| by Ruwantissa Abeyratne

( March 25, 2014, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) As a regular reader of this journal might already know, I have written a series of articles on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 since it disappeared after taking off on 8 March from Kuala Lumpur. My articles were all on legal issues surrounding the disappearance of the aircraft.

My purely clinical interest in MH 370 as an aviation lawyer turned into deep sorrow and emotion when I read in BBC News yesterday that it had seen a text message sent to families by Malaysia Airlines saying it had to be assumed "beyond reasonable doubt" that the plane was lost and there were no survivors. I must admit at first to being bemused as to how one could assume anything beyond a reasonable doubt, as an assumption always carries a certain degree of uncertainty and doubt. Be that as it may, I am now left with the nagging question as to why 239 persons all had to die at the same place in the same way, probably violently. Had they all paid off a bad karma or demerit of the same nature in the same way, which was due to be paid off on the same day? Why this unfair distribution of suffering in the world, from death by hunger in Africa to the violent extinguishing of the life of a 34 year old man in an aircraft? Why did a young mining engineer and his wife have to be in that aircraft? Why does God, for those of us who believe in God, allow these unfortunate events to happen to people?

An article excerpted from Rabbi Harold Kushner's famous book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" says: " The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehaviour, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God's part. Because the tragedy is not God's will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are". Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner, in one of his articles alludes to the possibility that : "not everything that takes place in the world has a purpose or comes from God. Efforts to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering in the world with God's justice are a waste of time because they proceed from the false premise that everything that takes place in the world comes from God and has a purpose".

Deepak Chopra, a medical doctor, in his book " How to Know God" addresses this point by giving two scenarios from a medical perspective: If one believes in God the omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, either it is a God who causes dreadful terminal diseases or it is a God who does nothing to prevent them. Which God must we accept? Chopra says he would accept none of the two, implying that the question is too objective for material circumstances.

Neale Donald Walsch in a comment regarding his book "Conversations with God" seems to project a God who does not control anything but leaves it to us to decide, based on ourselves - on who we are. Walsch says: " “Do not waste the precious moments of this, your present reality, seeking to unveil all of life's secrets. Those secrets are a secret for a reason. Grant your God the benefit of the doubt. Use your NOW moment for the Highest Purpose- the creation and the expression of WHO YOU REALLY ARE. Decide who you are- who you want to be-and then do everything in your power to be that".

Is it then that things could happen to us randomly, particularly if we are in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book " Fooled by Randomness" - which was called by Fortune Magazine "one of the most intelligent books of our time" says: " “Reality is far more vicious than Russian roulette. First, it delivers the fatal bullet rather infrequently, like a revolver that would have hundreds, even thousands of chambers instead of six. After a few dozen tries, one forgets about the existence of a bullet, under a numbing false sense of security. Second, unlike a well-defined precise game like Russian roulette, where the risks are visible to anyone capable of multiplying and dividing by six, one does not observe the barrel of reality. One is capable of unwittingly playing Russian roulette - and calling it by some alternative “low risk” game...the observation of the numerous misfortunes that attend all conditions forbids us to grow insolent upon our present enjoyments, or to admire a man's happiness that may yet, in course of time, suffer change. For the uncertain future has yet to come, with all variety of future; and to him only to whom the divinity has [guaranteed] continued happiness until the end we may call happy.”

So here's my take on Flight MH 370.

Whatever the cause might have been for us to believe "beyond reasonable doubt" that there are no survivors; or whether the aircraft disappeared as a result of human intervention or technical malfunction, it is not for us to question our faith in whatever religious doctrine we believe in. As someone crudely put it: "shit happens". A good aviation analogy is when we place our carryon baggage lovingly in overhead bins upon boarding an aircraft, we expect the bags to be in the same place inside the bin when the plane lands. One astute cabin attendant is known to have cautioned passengers upon arrival of a flight, to be very careful when opening the overhead bin to retrieve their carryon bags as "shift happens".

I believe it is definitely not appropriate to ascribe the disappearance of the aircraft to an inadequacy of divine intervention. As the Dalai Lama once said: "According to the Latin root of the word "religion" would mean "to bind again". Now how does the concept of binding or tying up come to be applied as the common term for all our various teachings? The common enemy of all moral precepts laid down by the great teachers of mankind, is selfishness of mind. For it is just this which causes ignorance, anger and passion which are at the root of all the troubles of the world".

Perhaps it all boils down to randomness, which seems to leave me with no alternative but to accept Rabbi Kushner's wise words: “If you have been brave enough to love, and sometimes you won and sometimes you lost; if you have cared enough to try, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't; if you have been bold enough to dream and found yourself with some dreams that came true and a lot of broken pieces of dreams that didn't, that fell to earth and shattered, then you can look back from the mountaintop you now find yourself standing on, like Moses contemplating the tablets that would guide human behaviour for a millennia, resting in the Ark alongside the broken fragments of an earlier dream. And you, like Moses, can realize how full your life has been and how richly you are blessed. ”

This is how I see the passengers of Flight MH 370 to whom these thoughts are lovingly dedicated. I am still hoping you will come back to us.

The author is an aviation consultant with 30 years work experience in aviation. He worked for 23 years at the International Civil Aviation Organization as Senior Air Transport Officer and Senior Legal Officer respectively.

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