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Failed Horizons

“Dave, I want to show you something.” My flight instructor took control of the two-seat Cessna. Moments later the airplane pitched over. The sky disappeared from the windshield as we plunged earthward, spinning wildly. I felt like I was going to die as I braced against gravity. We were in what pilots call a spin.

While the fear factor was real, I had asked for this very experience. Flight training focused on avoiding spins, but I had thought it would be good to at least experience one. My instructor had turned down the suggestion at first. Some of the gauges on the instrument panel depended on stabilizing mechanisms called gyros. The violent forces of a spin were too much for these devices. They had to be temporarily disconnected, or caged, before a spin to prevent permanent damage. The gyros in this particular airplane couldn’t be caged, and he didn’t want to risk a repair bill. He later decided one spin probably wouldn’t hurt anything. Those moments of terror followed.

After what seemed a whirling plunge toward death, the instructor yanked the plane from the spin. The airplane returned to straight and level flight. One of the gyro-controlled instruments was in trouble, though. The horizon indicator normally displayed a picture of the airplane’s action in relation to the horizon. It was a reliable guide for flight in darkness or bad weather. Now its mechanical picture whirled uncontrollably. My instructor had apparently misjudged the effects of one spin.

Horizon Indicator

 Approximate diagram of an horizon indicator in level flight

The gauge eventually stopped spinning, but its troubles weren’t over. It remained sluggish and imprecise for a day or two before returning to normal. Fortunately, that particular trainer wasn’t used in bad weather.

I passed my flight test shortly after that adventure, ran out of money, and dropped out of aviation. Over thirty years have passed since, yet I find myself part of a group that has failed to protect a very important gauge. The risks are real even though the situation doesn’t seem very dramatic.

The gauge in question is a spiritual one. The group is the evangelical Christian community. God has also given us a “gyro” that remains stable when the situation around us gets confusing. The Bible remains unchanged regardless of spiritual darkness, stormy times, or personal inexperience. In the church, we gauge our own movements and follow Christ regardless of the circumstances because we can compare what we do with that stable, unchanging Bible.

I don’t know exactly what happened inside that gauge in my instructor’s airplane. I have a better idea of what is happening in the church. Our “gyro,” the Bible, remains reliable, but our connection to the Bible has become sluggish. The ecclesiastical forces and theological trends that help link the church to the Scriptures have loosened up. As a result, we still revere the Bible, but we really neither believe nor obey it.

Today, evangelicals hesitate to say that the Bible is without error. We reinterpret the Bible to conform its principles to our culture. We explain away and even ignore passages that give clear moral warnings when the sins involved happen to be popular. We cite our theological traditions to justify bending Scriptural principles. We get nervous at the suggestion that we take the Bible literally. We so saturate our minds with the values of worldly entertainment media and secular academia that we can’t really think Biblically.

As a student pilot, I wasn’t about to fly into weather in which that sluggish horizon indicator would have been necessary for safety. As Christians, however, we have always lived under conditions in which Scriptural guidance is necessary. How we’ll make out when our grip on God’s Word reaches the point that we can no longer follow it is a sobering question.

The airplane I learned to fly in had no caging knob on its horizon indicator, and it briefly lost some of its ability to navigate this big world safely and easily. What I’ve been pondering is the horizon indicator of my soul. Is my connection to the Book that stabilizes my flight through life really doing what it needs to, or have I plunged into life without protecting my spiritual gyro?

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


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