I still remember my very first night flight as a student pilot. To say that it was unsettling would be a huge understatement! It was about a week before Thanksgiving many years ago. The sky had been solid overcast all day and the night turned it inky black; starless! It was also very windy. When my instructor had arranged this meeting specifically to fly at night I was excited! I had already logged over 170 takeoffs and landings and I was feeling my oats! I had this flying thing down cold! Taxiing around the airport with the runway lights on was really cool! I was surprised how well I could see all the flight instruments on the panel at night. I turned onto the runway and pushed the throttle full forward. The lights raced by! At the proper speed I pulled back on the yoke and the nose of the plane rose obediently into the air. And that is exactly when it happened.
Until that second I had never really thought about what was about to happen. As we climbed above the treeline, with the nose pointing upward, there was NOTHING to see but sky. Pitch-black-darkness! I couldn't see a thing in front of me. Everything in the world that I had always relied on was gone! Save for the fact that I had absolute confidence in my flight instructor sitting next to me, I might have died of panic on the spot! In a matter of seconds I went COMPLETELY beyond my ability to take care of myself! My heart raced, my throat was dry! My eyes were as wide as saucers, as if somehow opening them wider would allow them to find light! It felt like I had instantly gone blind! What on earth had I done?!
The few seconds of silence seemed like forever. Then my instructor began to confidently call my attention back to flying. The tachometer showed the engine was turning properly to produce adequate power for flight. I noticed the engine sounds for the first time since we took off. The airspeed indicator was pointing way into the green arc, which meant at this speed the air was solid enough to have lifted a World War II B-17 into the air! My attitude gyro showed that we were in a gentle straight climb and the moving altimeter confirmed that we were indeed going up higher. Despite my fright in not being able to see anything, my little airplane was climbing happily into the night sky!
Learning to fly means learning to use and trust the flight instruments. That was a skill which I had been developing on several other flights but which had previously seemed a tiny bit silly and contrived. NOW I understood just how important those little gauges really were! I still couldn't see anything in front of me, but those instruments didn't care if it was day or night. They had the reliable information that I needed to be able to get where I wanted to go.
There are a lot of times in life when we have no idea where we are going. Maybe that's actually the case ALL of the time but we're blissfully unafraid most of the time because we think we can see.
Jeremiah knew better. "0 LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps."(Jer. 10:23) So did David. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." (Psa. 119:105) So did Paul. "Above all, taking the shield of faith ... And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; (Eph. 6:16-17)." (2 Tim. 3:14-17) "But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
There are some journeys that we just can't take based solely on sight. Going to heaven is one of them. The shores of heaven can only be reached by following instructions that don't originate within ourselves, "receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (Jas. 1:21). That is a most uncomfortable feeling. However, with some instruction, "the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also," (2 Tim. 2:2), and some practice, the scriptures will guide us along a path we can't see, to a destination that we know only by faith; the throne of God.
Taking off into the darkness for the first time was absolutely unnerving. In time, it became less frightening. Learning to live by faith can be equally unsettling for a new Christian. In time, though, we learn one of the great lessons from God, that "we walk by faith, not by sight." (2 Cor. 5:7)
- Tim Orbison