If you have been near a car radio, a smart phone, or a computer in the last couple of days, the phrase “Flight 1380” will not be foreign to you. This innocuous flight number of a Southwest Airlines plane traveling from LaGuardia airport to the Dallas Love Field airport is now at the forefront of many Americans’ minds and Facebook feeds. The Southwest flight, which experienced an engine failure at 30,000 feet just 30 minutes into the flight path, executed an emergency landing in Philadelphia. One person lost her life as a result of the engine failure.
The stories making headlines from this experience are ones of heroism, bravery, and cool-headedness in the face of dire circumstances. From pilot Tammie Jo Shults to the firefighter who attempted to resuscitate an injured passenger, the stories are captivating.
One of the narratives also unfolding from Flight 1380 includes passengers who used the plane’s Wi-Fi-enabled in-air text messaging service to correspond with loved ones whom they thought they might never see again. Clad in the yellow “in-case-of emergency” oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling, some passengers with shaky hands and clumsy fingers typed messages of love and farewell to loved ones on the ground. Some have shared screen grabs of these conversations on social media, and the messages contained therein should penetrate even the hardest of hearts. They should cause us all to stop and evaluate our own lives.
I’ve never been through an experience like what those passengers on Flight 1380 went through, but in the telling of their stories by news outlets too plentiful to number, I think we all have something we can learn, if we’ll stop to think about it. We, as a culture, have withdrawn from thinking about death on a regular basis, but the stories making headlines this week should prompt us to ask what lessons we can take away from those experiences.
1. We should prioritize maintaining healthy relationships.
If you were to find yourself in a situation like those on Flight 1380, what fractured relationships would you wish you had taken the time to fix? What words would you wish you had said more often or apologized for? The Bible is not silent on this subject; in fact, a significant theme within the Scriptures is how we, as believers, should treat one another. Jesus mentions it in the “Golden Rule,” but we’re also reminded by Romans 12:18 that, if possible, so far as it depends on us, must live at peace with everyone.
2. We should remember that we have a limited amount of time on this earth.
Scripture is full of references to the reality that our days are numbered. Job said that the number of days and months of a person’s life are determined and dependent on God (Job 14:5). James calls our lives a vapor, or a mist, that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). It would be crippling to spend every moment of our lives in fear of death, or to constantly be thinking about it, but a balanced and thoughtful reflection on the limited amount of time we have means we are more likely to maximize that time.
3. We should use our time wisely.
Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (CSB). Carefully evaluating our days brings clarity to the work we are to be about. As believers who seek to imitate Christ, we should be about the Father’s business, as He was about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). Friends and fellow church members of Tammie Jo Shults have remarked that she seeks to share her faith as often as possible. Counting our days “carefully” reminds us that those days are precious, and in doing so, we develop wisdom in our hearts. That wisdom will influence all of the decisions we make.
4. We should keep in mind that we will all taste death.
The old adage about only two things being certain—death and taxes—rings true to all ears. We know that life is fragile, and the one guarantee is that it will end for each person on this earth. The Bible says that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
What hope is there in this statement, if all are appointed to die, and all will be judged after they die? We find hope in Romans 8: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (vv. 1-2). Because of Christ’s atoning work on our behalf and our belief in Him as God’s blameless and perfect Son who died, was buried, and rose to life, we have hope that the Lord no longer sees sin and death in us, but sees Christ’s righteousness covering it.
What does your before and after look like?
Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who successfully landed a plane on the Hudson River when it experienced a dual engine failure in 2009, was questioned this week about the similar circumstances of Flight 1380’s emergency landing. After noting that the work of the pilot and crew of Flight 1380 impressed him, he made a statement of great importance. He said in a recent article, “These kinds of events are life-changing for everybody on the airplane. They divide one’s life into before and after.”
These events divide one’s life into before and after. These are words about the experience of everyone on that plane, but words that also characterize a life surrendered to Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” As we reflect on the news of the week, may we be bold to proclaim the message of an “after” that looks vastly different from the “before” in our lives because of what Christ has done for us.