Arika Stovall and Hunter Hanks have inspired tens of thousands of people with the photo of them in the hospital, looking into one another’s eyes, after a crash Stovall swears would have killed them both if not for the presence of God. The two emerged from the twisted wreckage of Hanks’ truck without major injuries.
Stovall’s Facebook post points to the fact that her boyfriend’s quick actions maneuvered his vehicle so that the truck struck a pillar between the two of them.
She points to the appearance in the aftermath of the accident of an old man, illuminated, with a white beard, telling her that an ambulance was coming, reassuring her that all would be well when all seemed bloody and chaotic.
She admits that the man could have been real, or a hallucination or a glimpse of heaven. But, to her, it was further evidence of the miraculous circumstances surrounding the couple’s survival.
The only item of the couple’s belongings that was left at the scene, Stovall wrote, was “Hunter’s bible open, with a page marked with scripture telling us to not be afraid; Jesus is with us.”
How should we understand these recollections? Surely, there will be those who smile indulgently at them but dismiss them as coincidences to which Stovall wishes to assign divine meaning.
Surely, there will be those who scoff at her observations as data of nothing more than the irrational hold of organized religion on people.
I don’t see it that way. I see much evidence of the workings of God in Stovall’s story. And I am a physician. I am a scientist.
What else but an immeasurable force of Grace that we can only worship, not fully understand, could have made Hanks rise from his own hospital gurney to his girlfriend’s, then gaze at her in a loving and healing way that has allowed thousands and thousands of people to feel the power of that love? Try understanding that level of communication by understanding electricity or data. You never will.
What should we call it, then, if not evidence of God? What else allowed Hanks to stop thinking as his truck spun out of control and start moving his hands and feet and eyes and hands, automatically, to navigate the road so that the pillar that bisected their vehicle missed both driver and passenger? Go looking for that on an MRI or an EEG. You won’t find it. Ever. Not even when science has progressed beyond subatomic particles. Because it cannot be seen or understood fully by our minds, only by our hearts.
Stovall believes she and Hanks survived the crash for a reason. She feels a sense of destiny. She senses that she has good work left to do in this world. Why? Why would a human being do anything other than celebrate her luck with a good meal or a shiny bauble?
I will tell you why: Because human beings are creatures of story, of meaning. And you will never find the power in Stovall’s story or any human being’s by taking apart her word processor or her brain. You won’t find her kind of “heart” by listening to her heart. It exists in the immeasurable space between pixels, between neurons, between beats. It exists because we human beings are connected to God.
We all have a choice, you see. It is the same choice that Stovall has made, for the good, at least to my mind.
We can choose not to believe in something more powerful than we are, something we can wonder about and witness and worship. We can choose to deny that there is anything greater than chance, than choice, than us.
But have a look at the photo of those two, in love, in the hospital, and then tell me there’s nothing beyond them, bonding them together.