Life seldom goes as planned. In fact, I wonder if life ever goes as planned.
You may have seen an Associated Press story last week about a pilot named Denny Fitch. Back in 1989, he was riding home in an empty seat on a United Airlines DC-10 bound for Chicago.
While in the air, the tail engine on the jet exploded. Shrapnel from the engine sliced through all three of the jet’s hydraulic systems. When Denny heard the explosion, he made his way to the cockpit to see if the flight crew needed any help—after all, he also was a flight instructor for United.
Turns out they needed the help. They pretty much had lost all control of the plane, except for one option: They could make the jet go up and down, left and right by increasing and decreasing power to the remaining wing engines. Denny sat down in the only available space, the floor, and helped steer a jet carrying 300 people in this crude manner toward Sioux City airport, their best option. That’s where the jet crashed, but in a somewhat controlled manner; half the people on board survived.
In an interview for a documentary, Denny talked about the unpredictability of life: “What makes you so sure you’re going to make it home tonight? I was 46 years old the day I walked into that cockpit. I had the world ahead of me. I was a captain on a major airline. I had a beautiful healthy family, loving wife, great future. And at 4 o’clock I’m trying to stay alive.”
Denny was in the news again this past week because he died of cancer at 69. When he was younger, he probably had not planned on that happening, either.
That’s how life goes. Bad things happen in a broken world where sin and its biggest effect, death, still have a hold. If you’re going to accept that fact, it helps, I think, to have lived life for a few decades, if only because you have time to see plans go awry.
As a very young man, I probably got a little cynical about the world. I spent about a decade as a newspaper reporter, mostly covering crimes and disasters. As a police reporter for the Knoxville Journal, two stories, one the first night I was alone on the police beat and the other on one of the last nights, bookended my psychology for awhile.
The first news event involved a drunk driver who decided the best way to elude a pursuing officer was to turn off his headlights. He crossed the center line and drove head-on into a Toyota packed with teenagers. The drunk and a passenger died; so did a 15-year-old girl who was ejected out the side window of the Toyota. The other teens were seriously injured.
I had a police scanner, was in my car very nearby, and arrived just a couple of minutes after the pursuing officer started calling for help. It was not a scene I want to see again.
The last one was an accidental house fire that killed three people, including a 6-year-old girl who died on the sidewalk while the firemen who had rescued her from the fire frantically worked to help her breathe. The firefighters needed counseling after that one. Again, not an event I want to repeat.
I’m not sure which is more disconcerting, the evil humans inflict on each other or the evil that just happens because some force of nature like wind or fire smacks us down. Both can make us question God’s presence. I certainly did for awhile.
And of course, you don’t have to be a crime reporter, a cop, a soldier or a doctor to get to a place where you ask such questions. We all experience events throughout our lives that can wear us down.
It’s hard to make it to adulthood without losing to death someone you love. And then there are the other pains we experience. We love someone but are not loved back. We dream about our children’s and grandchildren’s futures, and they decide to go a different direction than what we had dreamed, showing us the brokenness of this world can touch them, too. Our careers jump the tracks, despite how hard we work. We feel like we’re careening out of control.
Whoever he was, John, the John who wrote down what we now call the book of Revelation, must have felt he was careening at some point. We don’t know much about him, but he tells us he was persecuted. For some reason he was on the island of Patmos, most likely in exile because he had professed belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
But then he saw the woolly haired Jesus, and everything changed. His suffering and his disappointments had context.
John’s vision of Jesus was a little different than our Gospel-inspired images. “I saw one like the Son of Man,” John writes, “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.”
Don’t be too literal when reading Revelation, but don’t discount the power of symbolic speech, either. This is the glorified Jesus, the post-resurrection Jesus. This is humanity blended with deity and purified to the point of holiness. Power, strength and authority radiate from the Savior, and darkness, death and evil shrivel in Christ’s presence.
This vision, and other visions in John’s Revelation, remind us that the world is not out of control, even if it seems so for a time. Christ came for a reason, to set the world right. His resurrection is the first sign of the work being done today, the restoration and healing of the world.
God is in control, and if you follow him through belief in Christ, you are in control. Do you want to know how to take control?
Tell the story of what Christ has done. No, don’t just tell it, declare it. When you see brokenness, declare that the woolly haired Jesus rules. Remind those around you that God’s power is in the world.
If you really believe in the resurrected Christ, trust that the story transforms those who hear it delivered in a loving, faithful way. And may it transform you, too, regardless of what you endure.