Faith in seat 14F
It’s another business trip. Or vacation. Or trip to go see family. I’m in terminal D, or E, or F and I’m trying to bend time in order to get to gate 27 in a polar opposite terminal. This particular leg finds me deposited in the cavernous, air conditioned hallways of DFW, LAX, BWI, IAH, PDX, OSL, CDG, LHR or AUS. Everything has blurred together and I’m in the same scenario all over again – get from security (shoes off? On?) to my gate, locate a magazine that will trump the book I brought that I’ve been “meaning to get to” for half a year, check, check, and triple check to make sure that my flight will not leave me, and then…wait to board the plane with the rest of the weary and anxious citizens swarming around me. I get on the plane, buckle up, say my prayers, and locate the nearest exit, understanding that it may be behind me. Sit back, close eyes, deep sigh, glance out of the window. The ground steadily speeds up and blends into a monochromatic wash. One final push! Then… The ground falls away and we’re ferried up into the sky.
What’s on my mind is not the salvation of the person next to me in seat 14E. No, at this moment, I’m wondering how this all even works. How is it that I’m – we’re – all in the air? Despite the fact that I’ve been on too many flights to count, all taking off and landing relatively safely, praise God, I still can’t wrap my brain around this concept of flight. This notion of meta-transplantation, warping time zones, displacing one’s self in a way that was impossible just about a century ago – how is it happening? I watch the familiar roads turn into threads connecting patchwork squares of landscape and then settle in for my customary nap as the clouds envelop the world. Somehow, it all just “works”. I’m 35,000 feet in the air and doing fine.
Back on the ground, I can think about this mystery – this defiance of logic and sanity – and realize that true faith is grasping a ticket and boarding a 5:20 pm trans-Atlantic flight to London. At first, when thinking about the unknown inner workings of a plane and the physics that bear tons of steel and human cargo aloft, it’s easy to think about faith in terms as faith in the “mechanics”. It’s ridiculous to think that I’d have to understand exactly how the shape of the wings along with the thrust of the jet engines provides enough lift to get the plane in the air before I could be admitted onto the flight. The lights, monitors, backup systems, electronics, communications…all of that just works as we need it to and we don’t have to understand it. I take Boeing’s word for it and don’t question anything upon finding my seat and buckling my seatbelt low and tight across my waist. That’s implicit faith in something that’s beyond me, but that I’m willing to take as truth. However, when I think about faith in terms that the Bible uses – “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) – it’s hard to imagine that a faith grounded purely in “mechanics” would give me the kind of peace and assurance I’d need to sit on a 9 hour flight without having an anxiety attack.
I’ve heard it said by various preachers that true faith is “seeing things as God sees them”. Of course, if I could observe my life from God’s omniscient vantage point, I’d be completely calm as well. Perhaps because of the limited, myopic view that we all inherited from the Human Race, we freak out and have “crises of faith”. The faith that’s required to keep me in my seat on a flight is analogous to the faith that’s required to keep me on the narrow road on the journey to see my Father. Because, you see, true faith allows me to “see things as the pilot sees them”. When I trust the pilot and co-pilot of whichever flight I’m on, I can breathe easy and even sleep knowing that he or she knows exactly what they are doing. Up in the cockpit, they have the benefit of instruments, a view of the ground and airspace, and radio contact with Planet Earth. They can see and comprehend things I can’t even imagine. I trust that the pilot has my best interest – my safe and on-time arrival – at the forefront of his mind. I know that he’s trained and experienced and that he can and will get me to where I need to go. I know that he’s capable of making intelligent choices to avoid storms or other dangers – choices that would not make sense to me if I were up in the cockpit with him. I have to relinquish control and just trust that when he tells me to buckle my seatbelt because “we’re going to hit some turbulence for a little bit, but the chop won’t last long,” he knows what he’s talking about. I despise turbulence – I really do. But I can sit tight because I know that this momentary discomfort is preferable to hitting the bad patch of a storm. If I were able to see what the pilot sees, to know what he knows, to be able to discern what he can discern, I would most likely make all those same decisions. But, for now, I can only turn my life over to him.
That gives me peace. More than just trusting in the innovation of man and the technical prowess of humankind, faith in an experienced pilot makes all the difference between a calm assurance in the arrival and a nervous, angst-ridden journey. In contrast, no matter how many frequent flier miles I’ve racked up, I would not be at peace if I doubted the pilot’s intentions, training, sobriety, or skill. Ultimately, faith comes down to belief in and reliance upon a dependable Pilot. Once we know that Jesus is good for what He says He has done and will do, the only sound choice that remains is to trust that He knows what’s best for us and that He knows how to get to where we need to be. It’s then that I know to Whom I must turn over my life and that gives me peace.
Note: The author realizes that unlike any earthly pilot, God actually can control the weather and elements and can guarantee an on-time and safe arrival. The distinction is made for clarity.