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Dr. Wayne Willis

Why is it that just some of the people who forgo wearing masks are taken down by COVID-19, while most of the mask-less are not? Why do some people who get the virus have no symptoms, some have only mild symptoms, some get acutely ill and some die?

In Thornton Wilder’s second novel, “The Bridge of San Luis Rei,” Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, raises those kinds of questions about five individuals who perished in the collapse of a Peruvian bridge. Why were those five — a little boy, a wealthy old woman, her maid, an old man and a young man — killed instantly, while those about to set foot on the bridge and those who moments before had made it safely across were spared?

Brother Jupiter approached that mystery by interviewing, over six years, Lima people who knew the five who died. He thought his investigation might reveal some common denominator. His hypothesis was that some were terrible people God was consigning to hell, and the others were the godly whom God was calling home to heaven.

Was that bridge’s collapse an act of God or an accident? “Why?” is the $64 trillion theological question.

Thornton Wilder gives his conclusion on the novel’s last page: “Soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

That message reminded me of a bumper sticker: “Love ’em all and let God sort ’em out.”

“Love still stands,” the Phillips Bible translation declares, “when all else has fallen.”

Now an old theologian, I’m still stumped — flummoxed, mystified — by why innocent little children sometimes suffer so.

God love ’em every one.