Searching for Answers: Airliners and God

I don’t feel bad for wondering. Some denounce this interest as “prurient” or “mere speculation,” but I think wondering is a very basic component in being human. I’m referring most directly here to wondering about the Malaysian airliner that seemingly disappeared more than a week ago. Of course it’s been all over the news all around the world, and a massive search involving many countries has been underway since shortly after last contact with the plane, so clearly I’m not alone in my curiosity. And this need to know is the foundation underlying the general concern that propels the search.

Rather than being some sort of titillating aside, my ponderings actually center around the painful predicament of those nearest and dearest to the flight’s passengers. I can only feel the edges, I’m sure, of their sense of surreal “adrift-ness.” Without a definable event, without a body, without a story to be told and retold, they may not even know how to feel from moment to moment. They likely endure harrowing vacillations between fear and grief and hope. And maybe some of them find moments of respite in Faith.

But faith in what, exactly? Faith and the Unknowable—they travel ever in tandem. These tangible incidents—actings-out, if you will—of unknowable events can be the truest test for some of their faith in eternal unknowables.

Let’s start with the most ascertainable: Perhaps those most in need of comfort can have faith in their fellow humans. Certainly this type of event draws out the more admirable common qualities of people. Military and government officials representing many countries, some of whom don’t even “like” each other, have been sharing information and coordinating search efforts. People of different religions and political allegiances have come together to send well wishes and hold prayer vigils. And because the airline is picking up the hotel tab in Beijing, all of those in limbo can be in the company of the only others who can explicitly understand their plight, whether they can converse in a common language or not.

But even this faith has its uncertainties. While there is much sharing and joint effort, there is simultaneously some sniping and complaining about who isn’t sharing everything they could, and who isn’t performing up to generally-held standards. Hmmm… Maybe, then, they’re better off having faith that the Truth, ultimately, will come to light in spite of men’s motives and efforts? Many, including the Buddha, put great stock in that hope. But recent decades have illustrated for contemporary folk that “that word doesn’t mean what we think it means,” to paraphrase The Princess Bride. The “truth” seems to be a somewhat subjective and elusive prize. And in situations like this, even if we piece together enough information to form a skeleton explanation, we will never be able to be in that cockpit and know exactly the events that transpired. If wildest hopes are met, and the plane is found intact somewhere with survivors, we may then come as close as is possible to the Truth.

Buddha's Truth Quote

So then we come to Faith in those ultimate, mystical Unknowables: for some this is the belief that at a spiritual level we are all cooperating to cause and play out global and personal events that will enable the greatest collective growth and evolution; for some it is the trust that ultimately we are all One, and that what happens on this transient physical plane matters less than the knowing that we all return to a place of shared Origin; for many it is faith in a Divine Creator—God, Yahweh, Allah, the Almighty. This is a faith that said Deity holds all Souls in loving protection throughout all Earthly experiences.

Even secular Science, on a different trajectory, places a kind of faith in the unknowable—or, perhaps more accurately, their faith is in the ability of humans to know the unknowable. Science shares with religion the need to look beyond the limits of current “fact” and stretch individual experience of the Universe. The scientific quest is to “discover new facts” just as the Christian yearns to “know God.”

In situations like this missing airliner and its passengers, current whereabouts and circumstances unknown, we are drawn together in that shared yearning. We crave answers, not just to “where,” but also Who, How and Why? Probably uppermost is the Why? All of the above faiths are impacted by the Why. Did our fellow man betray us in some act of treachery? Did the plane literally disappear in some way to some place we can’t know, thereby stretching all our boundaries around Truth? Was it random accident with no purpose or reason? Or is there some Divine story at play here, the parable of which we need to understand?

I wish I could say. Or even hazard a universally acceptable guess. But I can and do send my loving prayers for Peace of Soul to the families directly impacted, my loving hopes for wise guidance to all of the searchers and authorities, and my own sincere invocation for illumination of the motives and actions of those who caused or took part in this human mystery. Perhaps then, and in the meantime, we can all work to cultivate an inner peace that expands to embrace us all on our different quests to know the unknowable.