Last Saturday night a storm came through our neighbourhood. A huge tree was struck by lightning and landed right next to a house a couple of streets away. The house suffered barely a scratch.
Does that make the inhabitants of the house lucky or unlucky? It was good luck that the tree missed their house. But surely it was bad luck that the lightning struck a massive tree right in their garden and no one else's. And that next day they had to call and pay for a timber crew that spent two days cutting up the tree and removing it.
The inhabitants might still have considered themselves lucky had the tree actually landed on their house, but they’d been out at the time. Or if they’d been sheltering in the basement. On the other hand, they might have considered themselves unlucky that half their house had been destroyed. Ultimately, though, most of us would think ourselves lucky that we were still alive, regardless of any destruction or the inconvenience of having lumberjacks occupy our garden.
Why then does someone like myself, living a couple of streets away, not consider himself lucky that the tree struck by lightning in my neighbourhood fell nowhere near to my house? Why am I not more relieved than my neighbour who’s gone through a massive cut-up and clean-up operation the past few days? Why am I not thanking God (or the Gods) that he or she or they sent that lightning bolt through a tree several hundred yards away, instead of the one in my back garden?
It's a different question, however, to consider getting missed by lightning as a piece of good luck, as opposed to having a narrow escape from an act of divine providence. God did not smite the tree upon your house because he is merciful, one might say. To me, though, it’s just further proof that he doesn’t exist. Otherwise, seeing as he was in the neighbourhood anyway, he’d have sent a stern message to the recalcitrant atheist via thunder, lightning and the crash of heavy wood. Look what I can do, infidel! Instead he apparently chose to warn an old couple who always keep a very neat garden (I suppose it’s possible that God really really hates very neat gardens. Or that they have several bodies buried under their flower beds and God reckons it's about time they fessed up).
You often read about people who had near-death experiences saying that they prayed to be saved, and now they are hugely grateful to God that they’ve been spared. To me, that’s strange. If you believe in God, and you think you’re about to die, shouldn’t you be happy you’re about to meet this entity you credit with creating the world and the universe? I’d be just dying to ask, “Dude, how the hell did you make the nudibranch and the twelve-wired bird of paradise?”
And second, if believers think that God controls their destiny, why do they think that God put them through this near-death experience? What sort of God gets a kick out of scaring the shit out of a nice old couple? A psychotic prankster? If that’s the case, perhaps eternity will turn out to be more entertaining than I thought. A massive amphitheatre with a giant screen where we can watch God toy with mankind and we all get to vote on typhoon, tornado or tsunami.
If not, we’re back to plain old good and bad luck.