My dad was an exchange pilot with the Dutch Navy flying the P-3 Orion back when we lived in Holland. On one occasion, he was returning from a long ocean surveillance mission to an airfield at Land’s End in England, where the weather had deteriorated into heavy fog. With less than an eighth of a mile of visibility, he had to make several landing attempts until finally the copilot saw the runway lights emerge at only a hundred feet above the ground. When they finally landed, the fog was so thick that my dad couldn’t see where he was or where to turn. The tower helped them by sending a “follow-me” truck to guide the airplane to the ramp.
He was forced to rely on instruments many times in order to get back to his base.
When my dad told me his zero visibility stories, he explained how, without sight, one’s equilibrium can be thrown off. Vertigo, he told me, is thinking you are turning when you are actually level, or thinking you are actually level when you are turning. Because you can’t see, your inner ear begins sending your brain false signals. When experiencing vertigo a pilot must be disciplined and rely on his or her instruments, otherwise they might steer the aircraft into the ground while mistakenly believing they are flying straight and level.
Sooner or later, Dad said, a pilot will find himself in a cloud, or fog, or haze and will have to rely solely on instruments. The instrument panel provides an artificial horizon that pilots must trust regardless of what their senses are telling them. It requires training to develop the confidence to overcome our natural instincts and trust what the instruments are saying.
Zero visibility landings can only be accomplished when you have total faith and trust in what your instruments are telling you, even when your senses contradict what you see plainly before you.
The paradoxical nature of the Christian life can give us an awkward sense of not knowing up from down. But I have learned that God’s commands, our trust in His promises, and our reliance on His guidance are the instruments by which we fly.
The temptation when we’re living in the midst of the paradox is to pull back, recoil, lean more on our own understanding, and resist entering into God’s plan for us. In times of uncertainty, we can begin to steer ourselves away from God and toward our own sense of reason. But Proverbs 3:5–7 says:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
The secret to understanding where to go in life is found not in navigating our way to safety, but rather simply trusting in God’s leading. Trusting that He is good. Trusting that even if we don’t like where He takes us, He’s taking us there for a reason.
Partially adapted from The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith.