8 June 2012
Under three minutes. Just 178 seconds. That’s the average lifespan of a non-instrument-rated airplane pilot who blunders into blinding weather. On average, when he can’t see the horizon, that’s how long it takes the pilot to plant his plane nose-first into the ground.
But instrument-rated pilots fly through clouds and fog, blinding rain and snow all the time with no troubles. What is the difference?
Answer: Practical faith.
When an instrument-rated flier can’t see outside, his cockpit instruments tell him everything he needs to know to fly safely. His training has convinced him that those needles and gauges are trustworthy, what they mean, and how to follow their guidance.
The socked-in pilot who ignores his instruments is doomed. Without the practical faith to fly without sight, he trusts his “seat of the pants” sensations – what feels right. He’ll inevitably roll the plane into a death spiral, corkscrewing it towards the ground like a homesick rock. His instruments will shout the truth of his situation, but based on his feelings, he’ll believe that he’s flying straight and level until the sudden stop at the end. On average, in only 178 seconds.
Sometimes we get twisted up when talking about faith, like it’s a break from reality, as though faith is believing in what you know isn’t true. We speak of “blind faith” and “leaps of faith” when we aren’t really talking about faith at all, but confusing it with fantasy, guessing, and wishful thinking.
But faith is very practical. In fact, it’s very common. We already “do” faith dozens of times a day, though we may not recognize it by that name.
For instance, no one has seen the air pressure and vacuum, thrust, gravity, and drag that move an aircraft through the sky. We can see only how those forces behave. Yet those behaviors are so reliable that hundreds of thousands of us board planes every day, confident that they’ll carry us to our destinations. And they do! That’s practical faith.
No one has seen electricity, radio waves, or magnetic fields, yet we’re not surprised when we can turn on lights, talk on a cell phone, or follow a compass. We’ve tested and proven them. That’s practical faith.
Faith is nothing more than recognizing and relying on the real but invisible forces built into the universe. Spiritual faith is recognizing and relying on the real but invisible spiritual forces built into the universe.