An American Airlines flight to Dallas was recently traveling more than 500 mph when a collision warning began blaring in the cockpit. An air traffic controller had mistakenly directed a United Airlines flight to fly dangerously close. The American pilot had to quickly yank the Airbus A321 up 700 feet to avoid a collision. According to the New York Times, this was one of forty-six close calls involving commercial airlines just last month.
As another example: a Southwest Airlines pilot had to abort a landing at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on July 2, avoiding by just a few seconds a collision with a Delta Air Lines 737 preparing to take off on the same runway. Nine days later, an American Airlines jet was accelerating down the runway in San Francisco at more than 160 mph when it narrowly avoided a Frontier Airlines plane whose nose had almost jutted into its path.
According to the Times, these are part of “an alarming pattern of safety lapses and near misses in the skies and on the runways of the United States.”
From a “slew of failures” being blamed by locals for the devastating fires in Maui, to the ongoing war in Ukraine that has claimed nearly five hundred thousand casualties, to the damage left by Tropical Storm Hilary in California and being caused by Tropical Storm Harold in Texas, to a man who was stranded on an island in the Bahamas and had to be rescued by the US Coast Guard, the news is filled with reminders of human finitude.
“Societies get the technology they deserve”
Protagoras (c. 490-420 BC) famously claimed, “Of all things the measure is man; of those that are, that they are; and of those that are not, that they are not.” If this is true, humanity is in grave jeopardy.
For example, Cambridge University professor Diane Coyle writes in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs that “societies get the technology they deserve.” She focuses on the advent of artificial intelligence in the context of previous technological innovations and eras, from plows in the Middle Ages to the cotton gin and the mechanized loom in the nineteenth century and computational technologies in the last twenty years.
She observes that such progress has “transformed the world,” but “progress has never been smooth. Every wave of innovations carries its own problems; many people lose out.” For example, the introduction of ATMs after 1969 cut the number of bank tellers but increased the total number of jobs in banking. The automation of manufacturing in the 1970s coincided with a recession and contributed to massive downsizing in America’s Rust Belt communities.
How will the current wave of AI-fueled innovation turn out? Coyle writes that “the social outcomes of automation will be determined by policy and institutional responses” from governmental agencies and regulators.
However, in our elective form of government, not only do we get the technology we deserve, we get the leaders we deserve. As I noted yesterday, “In a democracy, the moral condition of the people determines their destiny.”
“My days are like an evening shadow”
King David, who knew something about moral finitude, admitted, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).
Consequently, he observed: “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath” (Psalm 62:9). He warned us, “If riches increase, set not your heart on them” (v. 10), then he reminded us that “power belongs to God” (v. 11) and added, “To you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love” (v. 12).
The psalmist likewise lamented, “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass” (Psalm 102:11). Then he testified: “But you, O Lᴏʀᴅ, are enthroned forever” (v. 12). As a result, “Nations will fear the name of the Lᴏʀᴅ, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory” (v. 15).
I could go on: “Who in the skies can be compared to the Lᴏʀᴅ?” (Psalm 89:6); “O Lᴏʀᴅ God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lᴏʀᴅ?” (v. 8); “You are great, O Lᴏʀᴅ God. For there is none like you” (2 Samuel 7:22). From its initial declaration that “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) to its concluding prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20), the Bible is a consistent narrative of divine sovereignty and human ephemerality.
And yet . . .
When good enough is not good enough
If you’re like me, there’s a tiny voice in your mind assuring you that you’re somehow different. Airline crashes are extremely rare and happen to other people; the Maui wildfires and Ukrainian conflict are likely thousands of miles away.
The moral challenges we have been discussing this week are threatening to our democracy but less relevant to you and me, or so we are tempted to think. After all, I am writing this article centered on biblical truth and you’re reading it. You and I don’t commit the grievous sins we read about in the news. We can feel confident in our character relative to our broken culture.
And therein lies the problem: our nation will never experience the moral and spiritual awakening we need so desperately merely by good people doing good things.
God is calling us to settle for nothing less than true and holistic holiness, seeking to manifest the character of Christ in every dimension of our lives. This means that we submit to the sanctifying power of his Spirit each day (Ephesians 5:18) and cooperate in our character formation through spiritual disciplines that keep us close to Jesus. And it means that we pay any price, private or public, to help every person we influence know Christ in a transforming way.
Good enough is not good enough for God. Nor is it good enough for America’s imperiled future.
Don’t let it be good enough for you.