The “black box.” It’s one of those phrases we never hear alongside good news. Another plane down. Another mystery to unravel. A thousand questions from survivors, the FAA, the media, all demanding answers that may or may not bring some closure. Perhaps, though, there’ll be some clue in the pilot’s pre-crash words, some indication of what precipitated the disaster. I wonder, if each of us had a little black box that recorded our words before we crashed our lives, and we could play that back, what would we hear ourselves saying? As we stood amidst the twisted metal of divorce or addiction or prison or a thousand other of life’s wrecks, and played back our voice, what did we say? What clue might there be in our pre-crash words that indicate what precipitated our downfall? I can think of a few possibilities.
1. “I'm fully in control of this situation.” The more that we think we are in control of our lives, the more we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. It is all a very seductive illusion. Beneath the desire for control lurks the desire to play god, to orchestrate our lives so that we avoid what hurts, achieve what feels good, dictate our destiny. We think that no matter what comes along, we can handle it. Until “it” happens—that “it” that sets our life on a downward spiral.
2. “No one will ever find out.” One of the ways we deal with the voice of guilt is by shouting it down. It becomes the quiet voiced speaker in a room full of loud-talkers. And one of those loud-talkers keeps booming over and over, “Come on, no one will ever find out!” No one will ever find out that you’re stealing from work, that you’re lying to your family, that you’re cheating. Until they do. And eventually, they will. When we say, “No one will ever find out,” we refuse to remember that God knows, and that God, to bring us to repentance, has His ways of bringing our lives down to the ground.
3. “Okay, but just this once.” If “no one will ever find out” is what we tell ourselves after we’ve begun a destructive behavior, then “okay, but just this once,” is what we tell ourselves before we jump on board. The seeming singularity of sin is part of its appeal. We all need to spice up our lives a little, right? And what better way to do it than engage, just once, in a little act of rebellion? But sin is like a drug. Try it once and soon you’ll be saying, “Well, maybe one more time.” And, before we know it, “one more time” has become a lifestyle that destroys life itself.
4. “I'll just try harder then.” We are hardwired to think that we can perform ourselves out of any of life’s messes. If we just try harder, if we dig deep and muster enough determination, we can make ourselves more loveable, more beautiful, more confident, more wealthy. So we set New Years resolutions. We devour self-help books. We can do this! Ultimately, however, the more we lean on ourselves, the weaker we become. The hardest lesson in life to learn is that self-sufficiency is not only impossible, but dangerous. We need others, and, above all, we need God.
My own personal black box has recorded me saying all four of these lies, along with many others. I sat slumped over in the middle of the smoking ruins of my life and listened to myself say, “I’m fully in control of this situation.” As I hung my head in shame, knowing that so many people had found what I did, I heard the recording of my voice, saying, “No one will ever find out.” As I cringed to think of how many times I had acted in rebellion against God, I heard myself say, “Okay, but just this once.” And when I looked at the bleeding wounds all over my soul, I heard, “I’ll just try harder then.”
For a long time after our lives crash, like Job, we sit there in the ashes (2:8). Maybe we curse the day of our birth, as he did (3:1ff). Maybe we scream at the heavens and damn the God who let us fall. Or maybe we are blessed with a rapid repentance, and turn immediately toward the Lord for help. In my own case, I sat in those ashes for years, scraping my sores, licking my wounds, casting blame, caressing the broken pieces of metal as if they were my Precious.
Over time, however, the voices from the black box are revealed for the lies they are. The words that once tasted so sweet, we can’t spit out of our mouths fast enough. And another voice begins to speak. It’s the voice that boomed down to a man who hated the church, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). It’s the voice that answered Job from out of the whirlwind (38:1). It’s the voice of the only person who has truly plumbed the depths of human suffering, known the agony of sin and its punishment, and stands ready to help and heal you.
Jesus lives amidst the twisted metal and smoking ruins of lives gone bad. It’s where He works. He’s not there to answer all your questions but to be with you in all your sufferings, to hurt with you, and slowly but surely to heal you. Like the Good Samaritan, who bound up the wounds of the injured man, pouring on oil and wine, Christ comes to us in our brokenness to bind up our wounded hearts, to pour His body and blood into our shattered lives. You won’t get better overnight; it might take years. God is not usually a fast healer, but He is a faithful healer.
Whatever lies we told ourselves before, they are all silenced by the true words of Jesus, who says, “I forgive you. I love you. I will never leave your side. Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me and our Father from you.”
That man standing beside you in the middle of your wrecked life, the one with scars in His hands, and a gash on His side, He is for you. And, no matter what, He will hold you fast and see you through.
If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out my two books: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. They are both also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you!