Don Merritt has been doing an excellent series of posts on “Forgiveness” throughout the month of February, and I recommend you give it a solid read at The Life Project.
I mentioned, a little bit ago, that once upon a time I flew little airplanes. (Granted, in my daughter’s view, that was slightly after the invention of fire… but nonetheless…)
Now, there is no question in my mind that my very favorite part of flight training covered “Stalls and Spins”. No kidding. I LOVE roller coasters, acceleration, and all sensations of speed or weightlessness. Dunno why, can’t explain it, won’t try… that just is what it is.
What has any of this got to do with God, prayer, Jesus, the Bible, or Forgiveness? Well, as I woke today I found this odd illustration sitting before me with my coffee, so if it works for you I thought I would share.
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Flying, this extremely cool thing we do from time to time, takes this heavy metal object… an aircraft... and suspends and transports it from one place to another… flying… supported by NOTHING that we can SEE… air. (I mean, think about it… if you have positivist friends who deny the “rationality” of “faith”, have them consider “flying” for a moment or two.)
Now, granted we can place our flat hand outside a car window and demonstrate the “substance”, the “impact” of this “invisible air”, as our hands are pushed around while we speed forward. But it took thousands of years for our human interaction with “wind” to result in “flight”. For all that time, all the time man looked up at the birds and dreamt of flight, it was only imagination, fantasy, dream, or… faith. Then, one day over a century ago, that faith became fact. But still, we cannot SEE the “principles”, the “lift”, the “air curving over airfoil” that results in “flight”. For most of us, as we sit in our passenger cabin seats, this is all still a matter of faith.
We look outside the aircraft at 30,000 feet… we look down at the roads, the forests, the farms… above us or below us we see nothing holding us up… hmm. Flight itself is “counter intuitive”. It doesn’t LOOK like it should work. Yet, it does.
This is not magic. This happens because of natural laws. Flight happens because this is simply “how things WORK”. It IS natural, it simply does not appear so to our senses. Flight appears paradoxical.
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And there is where this whole thing ties up to “forgiveness”.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect… For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” [Matthew 5:43-48;6:14-15]
So…. really… what does this all have to do with airplanes, airfoils (wings), and stalls?
Airplanes fly because this “invisible air” flows over a particular shape (the wing, the airfoil), and because of how fluids flow (natural law), “Lift” results. It’s all extremely cool. Looks like magic. Looks like miracle. (‘Tis, in a way.) But it’s physics, natural law, it’s just “how things work”.
So what’s that got to do with a stall, and what is a “stall”, anyhow? Well, if your airplane is just flying along (straight and level, nose nice and even on the horizon… right where it belongs), and you pull back on the controls to raise the nose, and keep doing that, three things will happen in rather rapid succession… (1) your nose will rise and you will gain some altitude (at the same time, disrupting that nice smooth flow of air over the wing); (2) since you reduce your airflow over the wing and present a “flatter” profile to the air you’re hitting you’ll slow down… a LOT; and (3) when your airspeed is no longer sufficient to generate the Lift that supports your aircraft, you become a really big, really cool, paperweight… and will drop like a rock from the sky. (Or so my Instructor explained it to me the first time, as we prepared to do this a few times. I thought it sounded cool, and enjoyed the next hour immensely.)
Now! Here’s the absolutely spiffiest part. Let’s suppose, under competent adult supervision, you get to do precisely this… you’re flying along, you check that you’re all alone up there, you rapidly drag your controls into your gut, you swing upwards (like a kid on a swing, skyward) until gravity and lift are equal, and your nose drops like a rock as you look down at the ground approaching….(at a faster rate than you’re really comfortable with).
Suppose you do that… Soooo… now what? You don’t WANT to reach ground under the influence of gravity alone…
Well, let me tell you what you WANT to do, what your reflexes are telling you, what’s the “intuitive right thing” to do…
You want to raise the nose back up to that good old “straight and level” position. You want everything back to normal, back to OK. And if you do this, this intuitive thing, you will continue to drop like a stone to an inevitable (and unfortunate) conclusion. That “invisible air stuff” will work against you, you won’t get that smooth flow back, and gravity will win.
Instead, you want to do something absolutely contrary to every instinct and quick-reasoned in you… You need to apply power and LOWER the nose below the horizon, working WITH gravity for a time, to get that invisible air stuff moving across the wing again. When you do, you’ll restore lift, and be able to control your flight out of the drop and back to where you want to fly.
The diligent pilot (or the student of a diligent instructor) practices this over and over, reducing the recovery time and distance to a minimum, since that whole “dropping like a rock” thing can be really hazardous to your health.
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What’s the point? To do this maneuver properly, to execute this skill… necessary to operate an aircraft responsibly, you must do the COUNTER intuitive thing. Just to talk about it, doesn’t seem to make sense. But, is it “magic”, is it inexplicable? No. It just is truth grounded in natural law… it’s the right thing to do because it’s the way things work. This is how gravity and air work. This is how fluids work. Things are just “wired” this way.
Magical thinking would propose that it’s some kind of “deal” or “test” with the earth, with gravity, with death… As if they say, “OK, I’m gonna grab you and slap you towards the ground. Now, if you’ll steer into me and accelerate, I’ll release you and let you live!” Now, that sort of explanation may sort out the sequence of facts, and I suppose if you trained pilots to “keep these rules, or else…” you’d get a lot of compliance. But it seems to miss the point pretty solidly.
What if “forgiveness”, as God instructs us to deal with it, is like flying?
What if He instructs just because “this is how things work”?
What if He simply says… “Hey, forgive others because then you can receive forgiveness!”
And what if, rather than imagining Him as a “Merchant, measuring payments made”, or “Examination proctor, seeing if you pass before He gives the passing grade”…
What if He points out a reality that there are “Forgiving Hearts”, and “Unforgiving Hearts”?
What if the reason we can only RECEIVE as much forgiveness as we are willing to GIVE, has everything to do with OUR capacity to engage forgiveness… and nothing at all to do with HIS?
I mean, to me…
God has already more than demonstrated and revealed His heart and attitude about forgiveness. For Jesus to utter “forgiveness” for either: (a) all the sins of the world, and/or (b) those gathered to mock, jeer, throw garbage at Him, etc. at the Cross while He died for them…
And, perhaps even more incomprehensible, for God the Father to hear and GRANT such a prayer from Jesus, as He watches what happens…
No, Gentle Reader, I can’t see any question at all about God’s commitment to forgiveness.
So, if the “conditionality” of forgiveness doesn’t rest with God… then, hmmmm… what if it entirely rests with US?
For me, this realization long ago, changed everything. God doesn’t tell me I am forgiven as I forgive because HE WITHOLDS otherwise. He tells me this because to the extent I reject the forgiveness of others who offend me… to that extent I harden myself and my heart against receiving His forgiveness OF me.
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So, do I love to fly without the worry of falling like a rock from the sky? Yes? Well, then I will maintain airflow over the wing, and when necessary (should I stall), I will aim INTO gravity to keep things working the way they should.
And do I love to live without the bitterness and shadows of heart that I embrace by holding a sense of debt over slights and offenses of others? Yes? Then I will maintain a ready flow of grace through my heart, and when necessary (should someone wound me) release that sense of debt or obligation as quickly as I recognize it to keep my joy, peace, love, and humor in the way that makes me happy.
It just makes more sense to me that way!
Grace to thee, Gentle Reader. — The Little Monk