[First published in the monthly congregational “Notes” for January, 2020]
A few years ago I enjoyed a session in a flight simulator for a Boeing 737. Everything was exactly as it would be in a real aircraft except for the lack of bumps and jolts that surely would have been felt if I had been flying a real plane. I managed to take off and land at Tullamarine without crashing. One can even say that taxiing, taking off and flying are all relatively easy especially if it does not really matter where we choose to go!! But landing safely at a given destination is the hard part and getting there and not crashing along the way is essential to that. While all the maze of instruments have their place and understanding them all is part of the art of flying, the Artificial Horizon Indicator is one of the most important. No matter what the attitude of the plane may be, it always parallels the earth’s horizon. It is a simple gadget but without it a pilot flying through thick cloud or fog, or flying on a cloudy, moonless night has no sure way of knowing whether the aircraft is flying nose up or down, or banking to the right or left. After a while, the consequences of this ignorance can be deadly.
If we use the image of flight to describe the Christian life, there are times when it can seem as if we are flying through cloud or fog. We have ‘taken off’ all right, and had many years of safe, smooth ‘sunny’ days in life with Jesus. Our goals are clear and we look forward to all that He still has for us in life. Life is easy! Then all of a sudden (or perhaps we’ve seen the clouds building up for a while) everything becomes cloudy or dark. We lose our reference points and cannot ‘see’ ahead. It may be that we can’t see any clear future direction and wonder why we should keep going, but as with flying, so with life: we cannot stop in mid-flight until things change! Or perhaps we are immersed in non-Christian values at work or in the classroom so we lose sight of our past reference points. We struggle to remember which way is ‘up’, i.e. God-ward, or even how to maintain our past moral direction, so we slowly veer off course and eventually crash. Or maybe we’ve learned to rely on others to navigate our way for us and they are now gone and we are on our own—and scared. There can be 1,000 maybes and they can be unsettling! “How can I fly ahead confidently when I cannot see where I am going?” “Why am I doing this?” or “How do I keep my life ‘level’ or even safe in this darkness?” we ask. They are real, sometimes troubling questions.
We may not know why God allows us to fly into clouds and storms (His secret will is never revealed), but God has not left us without a safe, reliable indicator for life—the Bible. No matter how upside down, clouded or confused our life may be, it faithfully reveals His level ‘horizon’ for us and gives us bearings to navigate ahead without crashing, even if we cannot presently see where He is leading. It always defines ‘up’ (ie. God-ward) and defines the level life: living in peace and unafraid (Heb 13:5-6).
We do not need to know God’s secret providence to live by faith (Heb 11:1); to know that we should love one another (Jn 15:12), live lives that are noticeably different to the mess that is the world (Col 3:5-22), work faithfully at what we are presently given to do (Col 3:23), trust God to work out His will in our plans (Phil 2:19, 24, Titus 2:11-13), be people of prayer (1 Thess 5:16-18), let the transforming light of Christ shine in and through us (Matt 5:16; Phil 2:15) and at the last, die well (2 Tim 4:6-8, 18).
If we give ourselves to these things we will be safely within the will of God no matter how unclear our life seems to us. God will bring us through 2020 and take care of the detail. You can stake your life on it, even in the darkest cloud and uncertainty.