The Theology of Travel Problems

There I was in the Johannesburg airport in South Africa. I was supposed to be changing planes in Atlanta right about then and heading home to Orlando. That’s what happens when your connecting flight from Cape Town gets diverted to another airport, in a town you never heard of, due to bad weather. The four hour cushion we built into the process was quickly eaten up and disappeared. Fifteen minutes late meant a 24 hour unplanned stay in a hotel, waiting to catch the next days only flight to home. In one of life’s ironies, if we had taken a later connecting flight and left ourselves only a two hour window, we would have been able to land at the right airport and get home on time. Of course this is the back end of a trip that, for me, started two days late because of a passport issue. I was cleared from Orlando to go to South Africa, including my passport. However as I was about to board the flight in Atlanta all I heard the gate agent say was, “Off load this one”. Moments later my traveling companions boarded the flight with dazed expressions while I took the next two hours to try and sort out the issue.

What has been interesting has been the responses to the missed flights. Many people have shared tidbits of theology regarding such things. Some people wondered if there was some divine plan that God had in mind, something significant that I am supposed to experience as a result of the missed flight. Others shared the recommendation to simply relax and not think or worry about stuff you can’t control. Their advice was to enjoy whatever God puts before you. Some raised the possibility that missing the flight might have been a blessing since something might have gone wrong on it. The immediate thought in the minds of Sean and Micheal, my two dazed looking traveling partners was, ” is this plane going down and it was just not Dan’s time?” I of course thought, “is tomorrows flight going down and it was just not Sean and Michael’s time?”  Of course there is always the age old bit of theology that says it is all about sinful people not doing what they should. On the front end of the trip it could be either the agent in Orlando or Atlanta not doing something right. On the back end it was the airline of the connecting flight not communicating as they were supposed to with the other airlines so planes could be held for passengers like me. It also may have been the desk agent who closed the gate more than an hour before the flight and absolutely refused to let us check in. (Still can’t figure that out, especially when the two guys in front of us in line did check in)

Maybe the answer is really found in the deep theology of the bumper sticker that says, “Stuff Happens” or something like that. But the more I think about it the more I am persuaded that “Stuff Happens” really doesn’t explain anything since of course “Stuff Happens”. If stuff didn’t happen then there would not only be nothing to write about, there would be nothing at all, zip, nada, nothing. Stuff needs to happen for there to be anything.

So what have I decided is the big theological secret behind my missed flights? Being fairly well persuaded that God is sovereign and rules over all things, there is a tendency to see His direct hand and purpose in all of this and the necessity of figuring out what His plan is. But that makes my head hurt after 48 hours of travel. Right now I am more comfortable with the idea that our sovereign God, while aware of and approving of all things, and even directing things by His decrees, also allows things to take place in something of a natural course of events. It is still His will in that He permitted it so I am comforted in the knowledge that He is always with me and knows all that I am going through. It is also clear that everything that happens can and does have something to teach us about God and ourselves and we should always be looking at things from the perspective of how each event allows us a way to bring glory to God. No matter what unexpected roadblocks, setbacks, or hardships we face, we must always ask, “How can I best honor God in this situation?”

Okay, but let’s cut to the chase. What is the bottom line in all this? Why so many unexpected hurdles? What is the great cosmic reason for it all? That’s simple:  “Stuff Happens”. As Michael said when we are asking ourselves this question, “We will probably never know the reason for it all”. Yet that does not mean there is nothing significant in all this. No matter what stuff happens I know I am always within the gaze of my heavenly Father who knew all about this before it ever happened and at the very least He allowed it to happen and maybe even said, “I will make this happen”. From the foundation of the world He was well aware of what the events would unfold this past week. I just wonder if he let out a little chuckle and said, “let’s see how he reacts to this one”. Hopefully it was in a way that honored Him above all else.

One thought on “The Theology of Travel Problems

  1. Jen

    Great article Dan, if I were to question all that has happened and the reason for it all in my life, I wouldn’t get anywhere in my day. However, I do look forward to the day of being able to freely ask why, and to watch the progression of events that answer my questions!

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