Total Depravity and the Glory of Flight image

Total Depravity and the Glory of Flight

Last weekend three-quarters of a million people visited my town for the Bournemouth Air Festival. Air festivals are popular, though last weekend was overshadowed by the crash at Shoreham which resulted in eleven deaths. There has been death at Bournemouth too, with Red Arrows pilot Jon Egging dying when his Hawk crashed in 2011.

Flying is an inherently risky business, but it can also be a thing of beauty. I’m no plane nut, but when the rain finally lifted on Sunday afternoon I was glad to sit with friends on the beach and witness some incredible aircraft, and some impressive flying. There is a strangely emotional tug as a Spitfire chutters past. The Red Arrows are always breath-taking: such precision and grace. The mighty Vulcan bomber (making one of her last ever flights) sets the pulse racing as the roar of her engines causes the air to tremble. And then the finale of the show, the Typhoon, splitting the clouds and performing the kinds of manoeuvres that seem to defy the laws of physics.

This got me thinking about the good old Calvinist doctrine of total depravity.

I’m glad that planes like the Spitfire and Typhoon exist. They are ‘good’ – good in that they demonstrate the highest expressions of a cultures technical ability; good in that they are magnificent to watch; good in that they demand such skill from those who pilot them. I think the world would be a poorer place without them. Yet the reality is that none of these planes would exist were it not for the propensity of Man to go to war.

That’s total depravity at play. Again. Everything humans touch, and even the commendable things we achieve, are smeared with the reality of our sin.

This led onto a conversation with my friends about the reality of the new heavens and earth. It is possible to imagine a world where humans create magnificent machines, but not because of war – where the swords are turned into ploughshares. It’s possible to imagine a world where such machines exist truly for the glory of God and the enjoyment of Man; and where such machines fly on air rather than create pollution. It is even possible to imagine a world where someone like me would have the time and opportunity to create and then pilot such a machine – and where it would be impossible to crash and cause death.

Maybe there won’t be jet planes in the new heavens and earth. Maybe the glory of the new creation will make the vertical acceleration of a Typhoon appear prosaic. But I can imagine planes – and great ships, and beautiful architecture, and astounding art – to be there. And I hope that my imagination is just a shadow of the reality that awaits.

← Prev article
Next article →