One of the fascinating byproducts of the GermanWings tragedy that unfolded last week is the effort by governments and civil aviation authorities to seek to mitigate against such an event happening again.
Current practice has a secure cockpit, to prevent hijackers taking over the plane. Control rests inside the cockpit so that even though a keycode from outside can gain reentry, it still requires a second authorisation from those flying the plane to allow access.
So now we are hearing other proposals. Two people on the flight deck at all times? But if so then what extra training is required? Could a flight attendant overpower a determined pilot? On other occassions such struggles in a cockpit have brought the plane down, most notably the fourth 9/11 plane back in 2001.
As we contemplate structural responses and safeguards it emerges that Andreas Lubitz had a history of mental illness, including “suicidal tendencies“. Perhaps a better question than “how can we stop a lone man taking control of a plane?” is “what was he doing flying in the first place?” For many it will be difficult to understand how anybody who has struggled in this way is ever put in charge of the fate of so many people or given the opportunity to cause such destruction.
But here lies the dilemma. There is no structural solution in the airplane to this problem. Cockpit security is designed to keep the bad guys out. But what if the bad guy is actually already inside, with his hand on the flightstick? There’s nothing you can do. Our safeguards are all designed to prevent hijack, not an inside-job, and all the suggested solutions over the past few days are therefore compromised. The threat is either the more obvious identifiable one outside the door, or the more sinister one inside and you can’t guard against both at the same time.
You can’t simply lock evil out of the cockpit.
So it is with the human heart. We work so hard to set up safeguards and protocols to guard our hearts or to regulate our behaviour. The sad reality, however, is that our history is littered with broken New Years Resolutions before we’ve even filled out 3 months of the year. The proverbial road to hell is littered with our hearts’ good intentions. We meant well but so often the co-pilot has other ideas and, let’s face it, more often than not we’re the guilty co-pilot making terrible decisions that wreck our own life and those of others.
But in response we regularly set up safeguards and protocols to try and govern our behaviour and bring it into line. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were famous for this, but Jesus was having none of it,
Mark 7:5–8 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
Jesus’ anger here arises because the Pharisees’ rules and regulations actually do nothing to help. They concentrate on the externals while not dealing with the heart, not least with their own hearts. They have libraries of manuals to govern the operation of the cockpit door but do nothing to acknowledge their own tendency to fly planes into mountainsides.
Jesus, however, wants us to look long and hard at the cockpit,
Mark 7:20–23 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
You can’t lock evil out of the cockpit, says Jesus. The pilot of our lives, our own hearts, are fountains of evil. Yes, we are capable of such wonderful acts of love and kindness, and yet with the very next thought, breath or action we can tear down and slander and worse. We know what the right thing to do is, we may even want to do it, but we end up pushing the plane into a nosedive anyway.
The Apostle Paul put it this way,
Romans 7:21–24 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Who will rescue us?
Enter Jesus and the wonderful events of Good Friday and Easter.
This weekend Christians will celebrate two remarkable related events. The first is on Friday where we remember the Cruficixion of Jesus; His death upon a Roman cross almost 2000 years ago. There is no doubt that the New Testament in the Bible centres most of all upon this single event. The 4 gospel accounts of Jesus’ life (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) encompass 3 years of His ministry, and yet up to a third of their narrative concentrates on the events in the few days surrounding His death. The Apostle Paul resolved to “know nothing but Christ crucified” (1Cor. 2:2) and the closing scenes of the Bible, written in vivid picture language, show us a great crowd of Christians from all around the world gathered around Jesus who is seen in the form of a sacrificial lamb (Rev. 5:6-10). As we might expect the Bible is full of explanations of this central event. From long before the time of Jesus we read this:
Isaiah 53:4–6 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
The New Testament takes up this theme of Jesus as a sacrifice that pays the price we ourselves should owe. Jesus describes His own death as a ransom payment (e.g. Mark 10:45) and His Apostles describe Him in the language of the old temple sacrifices, paying the price for sin (Rom. 3:24-25; 1Peter 2:24; 1John 2:1-2 etc.)
Andreas Lubitz will never stand trial for his terrible crime. Justice will never be done. But the Bible is clear that the same is not true when it comes to God’s courtroom. Each and every one of us will be held responsible for the way in which we have acted in the cockpit. We have sinned not only against each other but also (and even more greviously) against the God who made us (so says Jesus, Matt. 22:36-40). We are all deserving of punishment.
The wonderful news of Good Friday is that Jesus takes that punishment for us. No matter what we have done or what we may go on to do it is dealt with, paid for, as Jesus dies on our behalf. The only one who was never sinned, who piloted the plane perfectly, chooses to suffer for what we have done and in doing so releases us from the penalty of our sin.
But that’s not the whole story. Even when forgiven all that we have done we still have our hands on the flightstick and we’re still all too prone to crash the plane. But Easter Morning follows on from Good Friday. In His physical bodily Resurrection from death Jesus begins a resurrection in all those who trust Him, who follow Him. We are new creations (2Cor. 5:17) whose hearts are renewed and slowly being conformed into the likeness of the One who bought us in anticipation of the day when He returns to complete our transformation.
There is, of course, more to be said. We could point to the gift of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, a perfect co-pilot to be with us while we wait for Jesus’ return. We could write more of His work in moulding us to be more like Jesus.
But for now in Holy Week, with the tragedy of GermanWings flight 9525 still in our communal consciousness and the promise of Good Friday and Easter Sunday before us, we are left with the one compelling and unavoidable thought:
We cannot lock evil out of the cockpit.
This is why Jesus and His death and Resurrection are still so necessary and always will be. No human rules, regulations, safeguards, protocols or any religious acticity can save us when our real problem is not outside but inside. We need someone so very, very good to solve this problem of evil, our problem of evil. We need someone to undo the terrible damage we have done, to right the plane and reset our flightpath and land us safely home.
Rom. 7:25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!