Aviation And Theology
“On Wings As Eagles: Theology and Aviation”
Theologians are not always successful in helping Christians to understand the Bible. Their explanations of Christian doctrine often enter into the realms of the abstract and the irrelevant. One way I’ve found to help people understand the Bible (my specific focus here being the aviation community) is to illustrate Scripture with something concrete.
Therefore, I would like to compare walking with Jesus to flying an airplane. Pilots rely on the instrument panel to give them critical information about how the airplane is flying. This is especially true while flying in the clouds. Let’s look at some of these aviation instruments and how they relate to daily living.
The attitude indicator may be the most important aviation instrument in the airplane. In most cases, the engine drives a vacuum pump that spins a gyro which makes this instrument work. Even if the plane were to lose all electrical power, the engine would still run and the attitude indicator would still function. The blue part represents the sky. The brown part represents the earth. If you keep the blue part on top and the brown part on the bottom, you are pretty much flying straight and level. In most general aviation aircraft, if you pitch or bank the airplane too much you’ll probably have a very bad day. When flying from point A to point B, you want to avoid unusual attitudes. Here is an example of an unusual attitude that resulted in a bad day.
The Bible has several scriptures that tell us about unusual attitudes. As in aviation, the key is to recognize unusual attitudes and recover from them quickly. You only have a limited amount of time before they create serious trouble for you. When you adopt the mind of Christ, your thoughts become His thoughts, and your attitudes will not lead you into a moral catastrophe.
The altimeter is an instrument which tells you how high you are above sea level. In almost every location on earth it is critical that a pilot flies above see level.
It is also critical that you fly above obstacles and terrain.
The altimeter is only accurate if the current and correct barometric pressure is set into the instrument before and during each flight. Some pilots have forgotten to do this and found themselves inadvertently flying into the ground, while believing they had adequate clearance. Airplanes react badly when hitting the ground.
In the Christian life it is critical to keep a safe distance from things that can harm you. If you flirt with the things of the world, ultimate they will snag you. We must rise above temptation and habits that are destructive. The Bible tells us that we are ascended with Christ in the heavenlies.
This is another gyroscopic instrument that operates off of the engine-driven vacuum pump. Shortly after the plane is started, pilots set it to the magnetic compass which is also located in the airplane. It is easier to use the heading indicator to fly a given direction, because unlike the compass, it rotates in the same direction that the airplane turns. The compass rotates opposite the direction of the turn. It can be pretty confusing to fly a certain heading without having a heading indicator. When a pilot wants to get from point A to point B, he calculates the heading necessary to get him there, flies that heading, and arrives as planned. Getting lost without any clue as to where you are can lead to potential dangers. The wind might blow an airplane off its course. Navigational errors can place a pilot at a great distance from a safe landing zone, and unfortunately, without enough fuel to correct the mistake. Most likely this happened to Amelia Earhart.
Jesus gave clear instructions about directional perils. His clear instructions were “Follow Me.” He is the Good Shepherd who leads the sheep. He warned us against following, false shepherds, wolves in sheep’s clothing, false prophets, the ways of the world, and the father of lies. Whenever we follow Him we always end up where God wants us. The Bible has a dramatic parallel to the heading indicator. It’s called discipleship.
Vertical Speed Indicator
This instrument tells the pilot whether he is climbing, descending, or flying level. It measures the rate of such a change in feet per minute. It is useful to know if a plane is climbing at a rate that exceeds the airplane’s performance capabilities.
Climb too fast and the airspeed will drop off, and the plane refuses to fly anymore. It is never fun to be in a plane somewhere above the earth when it stops flying. I assume that some of the best prayers are prayed whenever that happens. Sadly enough, we have no record of these prayers. Descend too rapidly and the airspeed accelerates to a point where the airframe can no longer manage the forces imposed on it. The surface of the airplane may become damaged and pieces may separate. There aren’t any useless parts of an airframe. They are fearfully and wonderfully made by the manufacturer. How fast you are climbing or descending is a necessary bit of information if you want to maintain positive control of the aircraft.
If every Christian had a spiritual vertical speed indicator attached to their bodies, it would display some useful information. It might tell you the rate at which you are climbing and growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Among some disciples, I have seen the positive results of a constant rate of growth over the span of a lifetime. Others try to fake it for a time, but ultimately false indications lead to a guaranteed failure. Pilots don’t fly long when placing their trust in an instrument that gives misleading information. Some Christians may try to fake their spiritual health for a season, but seasons come to an end. The Bible gives us a parallel to the vertical speed indicator. It’s called bearing fruit. You can’t fake fruit. Either you are producing it or not.
Most people who are trying to become a pilot are told that this instrument can save your life. Most pilots are not rated or trained to fly their planes in clouds. Statistics have shown that a person who is not trained in instrument flying will have approximately 180 seconds to live if they continue to do so without the proper training or knowledge. The key is to maintain the proper separation from clouds so that visual flight can be maintained.
However, one may stray into clouds on accident, or in a moment of stupidity. Here is where the turn coordinator comes in to play. If you make a gentle turn by lining up the airplane wing with the line on the turn coordinator, you can make a 180 degree turn in one minute. If you keep the airplane level and in a coordinated turn, you will live. If you don’t, you become part of the ongoing statistical research.
The turn coordinator reminds me of the reality of repentance. Repentance can save your life and your soul. It only takes a minute to tell God you are sorry for straying into things that result in death. It only takes a minute to pray for salvation. In a minute you can ask Jesus into your heart. In the next minute you can make a coordinated turn away from sin.
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