After it was made public that the boat that was most directly hit was named “Jesus,” many noted the apparent paradox that a speedboat named after Jesus and its passengers were the main casualty of this tragedy. "Where was Jesus at that time?" they asked.
On January 8 of this year, a canyon wall next to a waterfall collapsed into Furnas Reservoir in Capitólio, Minas Gerais, Brazil. The reservoir is a popular tourist destination for sightseeing, diving, and speed boating. At the time of the collapse, several boats were in the immediate vicinity; a motorboat named “Jesus” was the one most directly hit by the falling mass of rock.
According to the spokesman of the local fire department, Pedro Aihara, the boat was carrying ten tourists. All of them died on impact. Some tourists in other boats had minor injuries and at least two were hospitalized.
According to local press reports, the ten people who died on the “Jesus” belonged to the same family. Among them was a child.
Recent heavy rains are cited as the immediate cause of the incident. The video below shows the moment of the collapse and the panic of the nearby tourists (Warning! Some viewers may find the video disturbing).
The tragedy of the boat named “Jesus”
After it was made public that the boat that was most directly hit was named “Jesus,” many people began to point out the apparent paradox that a speedboat named after Jesus and its passengers were the main casualty of this tragedy. “Where was Jesus at that time?” they asked.
Some even referred to the episode from the Gospel of Mark, which recounts when Jesus was in a boat with his disciples and a strong gale filled the boat with water, but He calmed the storm and everyone survived.
Of course, the situation and context are very different. We cannot try to use this passage—which is primarily a lesson about faith—to question why Jesus would not have saved the passengers of a speedboat bearing His name from death.
Why does God allow natural tragedies?
There is much of God’s plan that our human condition doesn’t allow us to understand. Why would He allow a chunk of the wall of a canyon to fall on a speedboat named after His Son and kill ten more of His children?
The answer may be difficult to find, but what is certain is that God is not indifferent to our suffering.
We cannot say that tragedies are “God’s will,” at least not in the sense of being directly willed by Him as such. Even in disasters such as this, Christ’s suffering is united with that of the people involved, because Jesus tries to bring everyone to Him.
Are events like this a divine punishment?
John Paul II uses the example of Job to illustrate that disasters cannot be considered as punishments from God. Job’s life, in fact, was full of suffering. His friends even said that he had done something bad to deserve so much pain. But John Paul II warns:
While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament. Revelation, which is the word of God himself, with complete frankness presents the problem of the suffering of an innocent man: suffering without guilt. Job has not been punished, there was no reason for inflicting a punishment on him, even if he has been subjected to a grievous trial.
In sum, we cannot say that God punishes, that he sends us natural tragedies and death to try us. But we can say that, through our pain, He invites us to draw closer to Him, to draw closer to a God who did not spare even His Son from suffering.