A Firefighter Speaks Out (September 2000)

I am a professional firefighter-paramedic for the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado–a beautiful but ultra-conservative city that boasts a plethora of military institutions: Fort Carson Army base, Peterson Air Force base, NORAD (remember the movie “War Games”?) and the Air Force Academy. It is also the fundamentalist Christian epicenter for the entire planet and serves as home base for Dr. James Dobson’s massive Focus on the Family corporate headquarters, the World Prayer Center, with massive displays of tax-free wealth on practically every corner, and a local paper that caters to evangelicals.

In short, there is no shortage of opportunities for encountering and debating proselytizing Christians, and that includes on my own fire department where I am currently fighting the presence of Christian propaganda bulletin boards that are placed in all the stations by the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters (FCF). While that is an interesting story in itself, I would like to offer a perspective through the eyes of a profession where the disconcerting tragedy of child deaths cut to your core and, unfortunately, is dealt with all too frequently. I recently sent the eighty-plus members of the Colorado Springs Chapter of the FCF a challenge.

It’s interesting that not one of them has been able to give an answer to the dilemma (and some of them are ordained ministers and chaplains for our fire and police departments), but I have certainly received a few hateful responses. If Jesus is really God, then he knows that I used to believe, and he also knows that today I am a doubting Thomas, a doubting Peter, a doubting Saul. If Jesus is really God, then why can’t he prove his divine reality by performing one little “miracle,” such as resurrecting one (just one) of the many children I have seen die in my profession (usually under exceptionally tragic circumstances)? Is it really so unreasonable to require physical proof? Was it unreasonable for those questioning Apostles? In Luke 7:18-22 (and Matthew 11:1-5) we are told that John sends two disciples to ask Jesus if he is the one.

And what is Jesus’ response?

Does he just send John’s disciples on their merry way with instructions to “just have faith”? No, he does not! Rather, he provides physical proof to John’s disciples through healings (the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are cured) and actual resurrections (Luke 7:11-17) in their presence, and then instructs them to return to John and tell him of these miracles they have seen. Why should I expect anything less? Resurrections seem to have been a fairly common occurrence in 1st century Palestine (and not limited to just bible heroes, it seems), so is it really too much to ask Jesus to provide just one single resurrection of a child today? I wonder . . . do you suppose Christians among the general public would be just as uncritical of us professional firefighters as they are of Jesus when he fails to answer their prayers, if we, for example, failed to respond to a house fire?

We arrive to the pleading shrieks of children trapped on the third floor with steadily increasing black smoke pouring out of their open window, and, having the direct power and means to save them, we instead choose to just stand and watch as they burned to their deaths, while their hysterical parents screamed for us to “do something!”

Hardly! In fact, the loss of our jobs (deservedly) would be the least of our worries, since we would most likely be brought up on charges of gross negligence for our failure to provide aid, and probably buy a stinging jail sentence.

This is a very serious argument against the reality of a personal savior who “hears our prayers.” Indeed, consider the two-year-old girl that burned to her death in Station 10’s apartment fire this past December (Christmas!). That little girl’s mother was pleading to God to save her child (as can be vividly heard on the 911 tape) and “Jesus” did nothing.

Tragically, it was also too late for even the valiant efforts of our firefighters to save her. Christians have a propensity for arbitrarily assigning credit for perceived good things that happen as being the divine works of Jesus (usually at the expense of the real miracles of modern medical science), but when things take a turn for the worse they will always find a way to rationalize such events so as to absolve their “loving” god from any responsibility whatsoever. Deep down I suspect they have the same feelings that I (and most people) do, but are afraid to speak the question that sits in the pit of their gut–afraid because they have always been taught to be afraid and to not dare question God.

Well, I am not afraid! If Jesus really is God and did not predestine this tragedy, but had the power to save that child and chose not to, then I hold Jesus responsible for the child’s death (because he failed to act), and also for the suffering that family will endure for the rest of their lives. If Jesus is really God and did predestine the death of this child, and in this agonizingly tragic manner, then I would hold him responsible for not only the injustice of taking the life of a two-year-old girl, but also for inflicting life-long guilt upon her five-year-old brother (who accidentally started the fire), and for the endless pain and sorrow that the mother and father will have to endure for the rest of their lives.

The writer is a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Freedom From Religion Foundation