06 December 2013
Strathclyde Police Eurocopter: Wiki Commons (Magnus Manske)
"This is a
black day for Glasgow."
These were the words of Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, last Saturday. This caught the mood as a city woke up to the news that the previous evening a police helicopter had fallen out of the sky, crashing onto a busy city centre pub.
As the world mourns Nelson Mandela, Glasgow has had its own more local tragedy. At approximately 10.25pm on Friday the local Police Scotland helicopter, a familiar sight in the city, was returning to its base, after a routine call out, when a mile or so from the heliport it suffered a catastrophic malfunction. Witnesses described it dropping like a stone, falling nose over tail, into unsuspecting regulars at the Clutha Vaults bar, who had just sat down to watch a local ska band. All in all, nine people lost their lives in the tragedy.
The days that have followed this week can only be described as a period of collective grief and disbelief. Like many others in this city I know the area and this pub well. I drive past it on my way to work and it's been strange this week to be listening to the updates on the radio while driving past the scene. As you drive past the police guarding the site you wonder what they are thinking as they grieve for their own. Seeing the cranes and floodlights at night searching for survivors you were painfully aware of families waiting for news. And coming a few weeks before Christmas only adds to the poignancy of the situation. I may not have personal connection with those lost but this is my city, my home, and as those families prepare for Christmas there is a sense that we grieve together, united in the horror of what we have seen.
When tragedies like this happen inevitably the questions arise: Where is God in this? Why them and not me? And for those most directly affected…how can I possibly go on?
As believers we start off saying we don't have all the answers, it would be futile with our finite minds to think we could. And to try and explain reason or purpose into this situation is something not even God does when given the opportunity to explain to Job the reason for his suffering (Job 38). Similarly Jesus, when asked whose sin caused the man to be born blind, points his hearers away from reading sin and judgement into specific incidents of random suffering (John 9).
Instead we are told to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15), to walk with those who are suffering and to offer our care, support and compassion reflecting our God who defines himself by his compassion (Exodus 34:6).
Glasgow has seen this acted out over this last week. Within minutes a number of chaplains were on the scene offering practical and pastoral support. Salvation Army vans were offering cups of tea to the emergency workers and Street Pastors were offering support to the police in Glasgow city centre as they were diverted to the incident. Over the weekend services were held in the main churches offering sanctuary and space for those to grieve or simply reflect their shock on what had happened.
Through this we have started to see light overcoming darkness and glimpses of hope overcoming despair. There are incredible stories of individual heroism from those inside and the bystanders who risked their lives to rush into the building and rescue those trapped. Praise God that He puts these desires into individuals that cause them to act in such a selfless way.
The Christmas story calls us to consider the true light that overcomes the darkness and the one who can bring true, redemptive hope from the depths of despair. Perhaps this Christmas we can offer this hope to those who desperately need it.
Today the world will be remembering Nelson Mandela and his family. Let us also be mindful of those around us who have recently lost loved ones, who are living through their first Christmas without them. We can make a particular effort to support them and let our light shine.
Kieran Turner is public policy officer at Evangelical Alliance Scotland