April 1, 2015

What I Learned From the Germanwings Plane Tragedy

, communication director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spain

I followed with sheer astonishment the news of what happened during the final eight minutes of the Germanwings flight last week.

After the captain left the cockpit, copilot Andreas Lubitz apparently locked the door and put the Airbus A320 jet into a controlled descent that ended eight minutes later with the plane slamming into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

The plane was 40 minutes into its flight to the German city of Dusseldorf from Barcelona in Spain, where I live.

My heartfelt and deepest condolences go to the families of those who died, including, of course, the family of Lubitz.

At the same time, my mind has been bombarded with questions that perhaps only a pastor would ask. Did spiritual leaders fail Lubitz? What can we learn from this horrible tragedy? Can we extrapolate anything from this to other areas of everyday life?

Here are some ideas that I have been weighing.

The truth is that Lubitz was the copilot, the second-in-command in rank. For a few minutes he was entrusted with the control of the aircraft and, as such, was the last person responsible for 150 lives. That fact on its own is sufficient to demonstrate that the decisions you and I make on our own — the ones that leave the rest of our family and friends outside the decision-making process — can have catastrophic consequences.

I am reminded of an uprising that occurred in heaven thousands of years ago. The second-in-command wanted to usurp the place of the Captain (Isaiah 14:13, 14). Just as Lubitz did not let the captain of the aircraft enter the cockpit, Lucifer also did not let the Captain of the Universe enter his heart.

The Bible tells us that "war broke out in heaven" (Revelation 12:7). On that occasion, the Captain managed to take back control of Creation, but the copilot dragged a third of the crew with him in his free fall (Revelation 12:4, 9).

Read "Adventist Church Offers to Help After Alps Plane Crash Kills 150"

Passengers flying Germanwings were unaware of the situation until the last moment. Likewise, many passengers on this planet are unaware of the impending disaster (Matthew 24:30). The victims did not choose to be part of the plane tragedy or the drama that has lasted thousands of years on this world. But in the world’s drama, an emergency exit remains open for anyone who wants to take it (John 3:16).

The plane tragedy has made me think more about the responsibility of power, control, and decision-making, and how our use of it affects others. A wrong decision in a plane’s cockpit might lead to an accident, but even in the case of accident, the passengers might be saved. On the Germanwings jet, it took a firm, repeated decision — locking out the captain and manipulating the plane’s controls intentionally — to lead to destruction.

Just thinking about this gives me goose bumps. As a pastor, father, and husband, I wonder: "Are we reaffirming ourselves in the wrong way, deaf to the calls of the Captain at the door, to the calls from the control tower, to the alarms that warn of danger, to the cries of the victims of our decisions? Am I making decisions on my own or without thinking about those who will be affected? Am I dragging my family and my church with me? Am I aware that the decisions I make always — always — affect those who accompany me on the journey of life?”

I have decided to make a new resolution. If I realize that I need to make a tough decision, I will no longer do it on my own. I won't lock out my team members — the Captain, my wife, or the church elder.

I urge you to never lock yourself in the cockpit. You must never crash alone. There is always someone flying with you: those you love the most and least want to hurt. "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you" (James 1:5).

Life is a constant flight, and you are the copilot. Life will always end well if you let the Captain take control.


A version of this commentary appeared on the website of the Adventist Church’s British Union Conference.

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