As God's partners, we beg you not to toss aside this marvelous message of God's great kindness. For God says, “Your cry came to me at a favorable time, when the doors of welcome were wide open. I helped you on a day when salvation was being offered." Right now God is ready to welcome you. Today he is ready to save you. 2 Corinthians 6:1-2, Living Bible
When United Airlines Captain Ed Palacio took off from Chicago in an Airbus A-320, he expected it to be another routine flight. Ed had been flying for a long time, and he once described the Airbus to me as an airplane that is so computerized that it can practically fly itself. That flight, however, was to become one which Ed will never forget.
When the plane climbed to about 6,000 feet or about 1800 meters, there was an explosion in one of the massive Pratt and Whitney jet engines, and the control panel of that Airbus lit up like a Christmas tree—red lights all over the place. An engine had ingested some loose pieces of metal, and it was history. That meant big trouble because the airbus is a two-engine aircraft. Ed immediately thought about birds, because if by some fluke, the aircraft had hit a flock of birds, both engines could go out. At an altitude of 35,000 feet or more, the Airbus can glide for a long ways—perhaps up to 90 miles, but at that low altitude, he wasn’t sure they could glide far enough to get back to the airfield they had just left.
“Did your hands get sweaty?” I asked Ed as he related the experience quite calmly. “No,” he said, “I didn’t have time to even think about it. I was completely occupied mentally stabilizing the plane.” Before Ed started flying the Airbus, he had put in thousands of hours flying, and then for several weeks he had been in the flight simulator where pilots learn to instinctively handle emergencies such as this. But flying a simulator on the ground is one thing, and having the lives of nearly 80 people in your hands when an engine blows up is quite another matter.
With Ed, though, it was no big deal at all. His training and experience immediately kicked into high gear as he brought the plane back to Chicago and landed it as routinely as though he had perfectly executed a script. “Ed, what did you think about when that engine blew up?” I asked. “I didn’t have time to think,” he said. “I just reacted instinctively.” Was it emotional for him? Perhaps surprisingly, it was not. “Emotions will mislead you,” he said.
Ed has something going for him that gives him an inside edge, a confidence that makes a difference in a difficult situation. Ed is a committed Christian. Having grown up in Latin America, he knows Spanish as well as I know English. In his spare time Ed voices Pautas Para Vivir which is heard on stations in North and South America. He’s also active in his church, and he lives what he believes. He added, “As Christians we need to operate that way as well. You don’t find your faith in a crisis; you already have it.”
Our conversation about acting instinctively in an emergency made me think of the way many people relate to God or ignore him most of the time, thinking that at the last minute they will get things squared away spiritually. Some call it “deathbed conversions” when, like the thief on the cross who cried out at the last minute, they will get right with God. “I’ll have my fun now,” they reason.
The mistake is thinking that they have plenty of time later. Matthew Henry used to say, “Deathbed conversions are seldom true, and true conversions are seldom made on the deathbed.”
The Bible stresses the importance of now, of living for God today, of being on good terms with him so when the emergency comes, you act instinctively, knowing He is with you. No wonder those passengers applauded as Ed safely landed the plane. I applaud him as well.
Resource reading: 2 Corinthians 6.