Excitement was in the air. The circus was coming to town. William set off for the river on that Friday afternoon, talking excitedly to his friends. It was early May and a chilly wind, coming in off the sea, swirled around them but William did not seem to mind. It was a welcome change from the cramped conditions of Ferry Boat Row where he lived with his parents, brother and twin sisters. Unlike most of the other children who walked bare-footed, William wore a fine pair of leather shoes; his father was a cobbler in town. When they reached the river, there was already a large raucous crowd assembling along its banks, laughing and shouting, glad to escape, at the end of the day, from the humdrum of their everyday lives. William pointed to some gaps on the bridge above and quickened his pace, his friends following closely behind, to get the best vantage point of the procession which was about to begin. He peered over the parapet and could hardly believe his eyes. Appearing round the bend of the murky river, a clown, sitting in a bathtub was being towed by three geese. William jumped with glee. He had never seen such a wondrous sight. The cheering crowd behind him surged forward to get a better glimpse of the spectacle below. There was an ominous sound above them as first one chain and then a second snapped. Joy and delight turned in an instant into horror and chaos as the bridge plunged into the icy waters of the River Bure below. 79 people, mostly children, were killed in the Great Yarmouth suspension bridge disaster on 2nd May 1845. A plaque at the side of the river commemorates the names of all those who died. My great great granduncle, William Hindle was among them. He was just ten years old.

A subsequent investigation revealed that this was very much a man-made tragedy. The bridge design, the materials and the welding techniques were all found to be at fault. Tragic though the circumstances were, good did come out of it. New measures introduced, ensured that bridges the world over would become much safer as a consequence. So where was God in all of this? Why did He allow such untold suffering to happen? In Deuteronomy 31:6 we learn that God never leaves us or forsakes us and in Psalm 46:1 we read that He is our refuge and our strength, a help in time of trouble. Psalm 23 tells us that God is our Shepherd, guiding us, providing for us and protecting us. So how do we reconcile the truth of God’s divine protection on the one hand and the fact that our fellow Christians can die in unexpected and tragic ways? When the Tower of Siloam collapsed, killing a group of people, as recounted in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus makes the point that death comes to us all and that we must lead a Kingdom-focused life while we are here on earth. Our time on earth is a merely a fleeting passage to our true reward and our eternal home in Heaven, united with Christ. We do not always understand why God does what He does; why some live and others do not, and it is not our place to question why. In 1 Peter 4:12-17, Peter tells us that we should not think it strange when we suffer tragedy and difficulty in our lives but rather it is something we should expect. The pain, suffering and tragedy that we see in the world around us is a direct result of Satan’s influence and the people of God are not immune from it. However, in Revelation 21, we have the wonderful guarantee that Jesus Christ will return, and the Kingdom of God will be established. At that time, Satan will be banished for eternity and there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears and no more death. What a glorious reassurance and encouragement for us all.  Jesus is the bridge by which we reach God and enter the Kingdom of Heaven, a bridge which is robust, dependable and will never fall down.

[from Michael Chittleburgh]

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