At about six o’clock tonight the bridge of Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. I am writing this about three hours after the bridge fell. The bridge is located within sight of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Most of us who minister at the church cross this bridge several times a week. At this point I don’t know if any staff was on the bridge. Desiring God offices are about a mile from the bridge.
There are no firm facts at this point about the total number of injuries and fatalities. When I last crossed the bridge, there was extensive repair work happening on the surface of the bridge with single-lane traffic. One speculates about the unusual stresses on the bridge with jackhammers and other surface replacement equipment. This was the fortieth anniversary of the bridge.
Tonight for our family devotions our appointed reading was Luke 13:1–9. It was not my choice. This is surely no coincidence. Oh, that all of the Twin Cities, and beyond, in shock at this major calamity, would hear what Jesus has to say about it from Luke 13:1–5. People came to Jesus with heart-wrenching news about the slaughter of worshipers by Pilate. Here is what he said:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
Jesus implies that those who brought him this news thought he would say that those who died, deserved to die, and that those who didn’t die did not deserve to die. That is not what he said. He said, everyone deserves to die. And if you and I don’t repent, we too will perish. This is a stunning response. It only makes sense from a view of reality that is radically oriented on God.
All of us have sinned against God, not just against each other. This is an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge. That any human is breathing at this minute on this planet is sheer mercy from God. God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on those who do not treasure him above all else. He causes the heart to beat and the lungs to work for millions of people who deserve his wrath. This is a view of reality that desperately needs to be taught in our churches, so that we are prepared for the calamities of the world.
The meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that John Piper is a sinner and should repent or forfeit his life forever. That means I should turn from the silly preoccupations of my life and focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on God and embrace Jesus Christ as my only hope for the forgiveness of my sins and for the hope of eternal life. That is God’s message in the collapse of this bridge. That is his most merciful message: there is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which he is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world.
We prayed during our family devotions. Talitha (11 years old) and Noël and I prayed earnestly for the families affected by the calamity and for the others in our city. Talitha prayed “Please don’t let anyone blame God for this but give thanks that they were saved.” When I sat on her bed and tucked her in and blessed her and sang over her a few minutes ago, I said, “You know, Talitha, that was a good prayer, because when people ‘blame’ God for something, they are angry with him, and they are saying that he has done something wrong. That’s what “blame” means — accuse somebody of wrongdoing. But you and I know that God did not do anything wrong. God always does what is wise. And you and I know that God could have held up that bridge with one hand.” Talitha said, “With his pinky.” “Yes,” I said, “with his pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills.”
Talitha said, “Maybe he let it fall because he wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear him.” “Yes, Talitha,” I said, “I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall.”
I sang to her the song I always sing,
Come rest your head and nestle gently
And do not fear the dark of night.
Almighty God keeps watch intently,
And guards your life with all his might.
Doubt not his love, nor power to keep,
He never fails, nor does he sleep.
I said, “You know, Talitha, that is true whether you die in a bridge collapse, or in a car accident, or from cancer, or terrorism, or old age. God always keeps you, even when you die. So you don’t need to be afraid, do you.” “No,” she shook her head. I leaned down and kissed her. “Good night. I love you.”
Tonight across the Twin Cities families are wondering if they will ever kiss a loved one good night again. Some will not. I am praying that they will find Jesus Christ to be their Rock and Refuge in these agonizing hours of uncertainty and even loss.
The word “bridge” does not occur in the Bible. There may be two reasons. One is that God doesn’t build bridges; he divides seas. The other is that usually his people must pass through the deadly currents of suffering and death, not simply ride over them. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43:2). They may drown you. But I will be with you in life and death.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35–38)
Killed all day long. But not separated from Christ. We go through the river. Not over it. He went before us, crucified. He came out on the other side. He knows the way through. With him we will make it. That is the message we have for the precious sinners in the Twin Cities and every place. He died for your sins. He rose again. He saves all who trust him. We die, but because of him, we do not die.
Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25)
Talitha is sleeping now. But one day she will die. I teach her this. I will not always be there to bless her. But Jesus is alive and is the same yesterday today and forever. He will be with her because she trusts him. And she will make it through the river.
“You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again” (Psalm 71:20).