Death on Camber Sands

Sometimes it is the numerically smaller, more local tragedies that hit hardest. The ongoing tragedy that is Syria, the earthquake in Italy, they are heart-breaking and we feel a deep sense of connectedness with those who suffer; but a father and child* lost to the sea in Cornwall or five friends drowned on Camber Sands, these are tragedies we can identify with more easily. We have names, faces, personal histories associated with places we know; and if we have lived by the sea, we also know what fickle things tides and currents are. The water at Newquay sweeps in faster than a strong man can run; Camber Sands are notoriously dangerous and the graveyard of many a ship. But those on holiday, possibly unfamiliar with these things and caught up in the magic of a carefree moment, tend not to notice when the tide has turned, when they ought to turn back to the safety of the shore.

Inevitably, people ask, ‘Why does God allow such things to happen?’ There is no real answer other than, ‘We do not know.’ I myself do not believe in the kind of interventionist God who never allows sad things to happen, because such a God makes a mockery of human freedom and dignity and curtails the freedom and beauty of the natural world. I do, however, believe in a God of tenderness and compassion, a God who does not destroy wantonly or take pleasure in the death of anyone. I do not understand, for example, why God allowed the death of those five friends on Camber Sands but I am convinced that their death is not meaningless, that they are not lost for ever. Many will find such a statement unsatisfactory, but it is what I believe. We live with the messiness of life and death, not knowing, not understanding, but somehow willing to trust. It is part of being human. I pray for the souls of those who have died, for the comforting of their family and friends; and I pray that those who holiday beside the sea will take heed of the warning notices and tide tables.

  • A tragedy made all the sadder by the fact that the child was rescued but died later.

3 thoughts on “Death on Camber Sands”

  1. When I was a serving firefighter and priest, colleagues would say ‘where is God in this car crash’ My answer was always ‘In the car alongside those we are trying to rescue’

  2. I can recall when in a matter of weeks when in Aldershot with the Army in the 1970’s, 5 of our soldiers were killed in accidents. these were people we worked with, lived with and would have possibly died with on military operations. What we found it difficult to cope with was their death in unrelated accidents, which seemed so random and so unkind to their surviving families aond comrades.

    Our Padre, who happened to be a Methodist Minister, got permission to hold a short parade of commemoration for all unit members on the square, where he said many of the things that you have said here. His parting message was one of hope – using the words of Revelation and everyone joining in with the words of Psalm 23, which resounded around the square, in a completely different way than the normal barking of commands for parades or drill.

    Somehow the cloud of depression on unit morale dissipated and people while still sad at the loss, were able to talk about the dead, not in hushed disbelief, but in positive ways in celebration of their lives.

    I can’t say how many of the over 300 people on that square were practicing Christians, as faith is something somewhat hidden among serving soldiers, not worn on the sleeve, like a badge of rank or qualification – but have no doubt that were one for that short time in God’s grace and sharing it without any embarrassment or awkwardness.

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