December 10, 2008

Cosmic Flight Plan

2008 1534 page20 capn January 25, 1990, Avianca Airlines flight 52 ran out of fuel and crashed, resulting in the loss of many lives. In its report of the incident the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) disclosed that the whole tragic accident may have been prevented if the flight crew had used the correct specific terms to describe the critical problem they were facing to operators in the control tower.

Reportedly, the pilots had radioed the following message to air traffic controllers at the nearest airport: “We’re running out of fuel.”
Those were the wrong words. The correct terms under the circumstances should have been: “minimum fuel” or “emergency fuel.” Had the precise code been used, the controllers would have known to respond decisively and immediately. Controllers are trained to listen for certain specific terms; and not hearing them, they failed to realize the gravity of Avianca’s situation.
In an effort to anticipate every possible eventuality, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has designated a standard form of terminology for communication between aircraft and control tower. In this case, according to reports, it was the aircraft personnel’s failure to use the official vocabulary that led to the miscommunication—and a great loss of human life.
How About the Divine Control Tower?
In a sense God has also established a standard for communication, compliance with which has life-or-death consequences—cosmic consequences, in fact. He chose to reveal His will through Scripture so that humans may navigate a flight plan through life in safety and security.

2008 1534 page20Given that, one might conclude that we’d all be universally intent on learning what God has to say to us, parsing everything as if our lives depended on it. As it happens, our everlasting lives, indeed, do depend on it.
Many have recognized this, and through the ages God’s people—spiritual Israel—have maintained a vital reliance on Scripture as the guiding light of their lives. In responding to God’s grace, they’ve considered it a privilege to follow its leading. “In every age there were witnesses for God—men who cherished faith in Christ as the only mediator between God and man, who held the Bible as the only rule of life, and who hallowed the true Sabbath.”1
But there has also been a broad mix of reactions to God’s Word that does not acknowledge its full authority. Some reject it outright. They say it’s nothing more than ancient superstition from which humankind has been liberated by the Enlightenment. Others, recognizing that Scripture undeniably contains at least some germ of truth, seek to glean from it a measure of general spiritual guidance. Both of these depend primarily on human reason. Both subject Scripture to a scientific process that usually precludes anything that would be classified as supernatural.
Not by Human Reason
As it happens, the very earliest pages of Scripture recount a caution-
ary tale about this very issue. The experience of Cain, Adam and Eve’s eldest son—their firstborn—is a good example of what happens when we measure the Word of God by human standards or measurements—by human reason alone.
From a human perspective, Cain’s offering made perfect sense. His sacrifice consisted of the very best of his produce—his fruit basket. Hadn’t God originally put humankind in “the garden of Eden to cultivate it”? (Gen. 2:15, NASB).* It doesn’t say anything about tending sheep there. Younger brother Abel was the shepherd; Cain was not. But Cain was surely following God’s command to cultivate the garden. Couldn’t the elder brother’s gesture have been construed as a sincere effort to do the right thing?
Intentionally or not, Cain had missed the point of God’s mandate regarding the submission of sacrificial offerings. He had misinterpreted it. At the center of this command was the emphasis on blood. As the old saying goes, you don’t get blood from a turnip—or any other fruit or vegetable for that matter. Cain may have thought that God was expecting him to use the brain that God had given him to apply his human reason to this requirement, to put his best skills of interpretation to work in preparing an offering for God.
But he was dead wrong. His attempt to substitute something else for blood in the sacrifice was a rejection of the principle that blood—God’s blood—was the only way that humanity could be saved from sin.
Peril of Self-reliance
We should acknowledge that Cain did not get his instructions regarding appropriate offerings from his close reading of the Holy Word. There was, of course, no Scrip-
ture in his time. How could he be reading Scripture when the account of his own life is contained in its initial chapters? He didn’t have a leather-bound, onion-skin, cross-referenced study Bible—in any version—to go to for the necessary information about God’s expectations for a sacrifice. In his time, he didn’t even have the crudest form of parchment.
But Cain did have the benefit of the direct and specific Word of God, delivered in person to Adam, his father. How, we wonder, could Cain have missed the point? How could he have had the temerity to question the authority of God’s Word? The answer is this: he “permitted his mind to run in the same channel that led to Satan’s fall—indulging the desire for self-exaltation and questioning the divine justice and authority.”2
The decision to base interpretation of God’s Word on anything other than a recognition of His authority is willful. It isn’t a matter of inadvertence. It isn’t “Oops!”
Any rejection of the authority of God’s Word today is just as much an act of will as was that of Cain. It is an audacious decision to rely primarily on personal, human reason in evaluating the authenticity of God’s attempt to reveal His will to humankind.
As someone said, “Christianity is different from all other religions. They are the story of man’s search for God. The gospel is the story of God’s search for man.”3 If God is trying to find us through the Holy Scriptures, the only way we can be lost is to refuse to be found. 
*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
1Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 61. (Italics supplied.)
2White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 71.
3Dewi Morgan, cited in Isabella D. Bunn, 444 Surprising Quotes About the Bible (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), p. 33.
Gary B. Swanson is associate director of the Sabbath School/Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland.