As you may have heard, an American Airlines flight attendant made national headlines as her routine pre-flight intercom schtick devolved into a dire warning to passengers that the plane faced imminent danger and would likely crash after take-off. This prompted passengers to take matters into their own hands and forcibly apprehend the attendant until authorities could defuse the situation and send the travelers on their not-so-merry way.
One such passenger on the flight, theology blogger Sharon Hodde Miller, described her experience while also highlighting something we hold dear here at Mockingbird- her inability to live up to her own professed beliefs. She writes,
But the main source of my reflection these last couple days has centered on that gripping fear. As a Christian who believes in Jesus and the eternal life he offers, I know where I’m going. Intellectually speaking, I have no reason to be afraid of death. In fact, I should welcome perfect reunion with my Creator. Why fear it?
And yet I didn’t face my mortality with the courage and anticipation that my theology would imply. Despite Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15, I quivered before the sting of death. That response has been troubling to me.
Our mortality is no secret, and at least theoretically, neither is the assurance of the resurrection. It’s this knowledge- if you can call it that- and the grace of Heaven itself that offers those of us who believe any comfort, especially when faced with the reality of our weakness. Miller’s recognition of her fear of death, in spite of a firm belief about what happens afterward, led to the self-destructive anxiety common to all of us: We are appalled when we knowingly fail to live up to our own expectations- let alone the Law. She adds, “My emotions were blatantly disobedient to my beliefs. As I spoke truth into my heart and mind about the faith I professed, the fear was unmoving.”
Miller’s experience echoes Paul’s message to the Romans: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:15
Like Paul and Miller, we may detest our own thoughts and feelings knowing they are contrary to what the Law demands, but the fact that we have them in the first place rattles us to the core. How can we know what is good and right and be totally unable to stop ourselves from behaving or thinking otherwise? Paul seems to indicate that this is one of the key truths of human existence, that we are sinful- plain and simple. Paul’s response to his own fallibility is nonsensical but oh-so-hopeful for those who need it (i.e., everyone): he is thankful.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:24-25
Paul intimately understands that Christianity is a religion for hypocrites- since he is one. With that in mind, Miller, her flight attendant, and the rest of us and can find solace, give thanks, and hopefully, move about the cabin of life.