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by Tim O'Hearn

It is said that one of the hardest things for an experienced pilot to do is land a plane on autopilot. The pilot trusts his ability to land a plane, and has difficulty taking his hands off the controls. This is compounded in the case of an automated carrier landing in the Navy. It is hard enough to land a plane flying in excess of 300 mph on what appears to be a postage stamp. Trying to land on a 300-foot runway is even harder when that runway is moving away from you at a certain speed and may pitch or roll unexpectedly. To do that without controlling the aircraft “by hand” takes a lot of self-control.

The civilian equivalent of this is becoming more common and “normal.” Parallel parking is not easy; letting a car do it for you can be scary. There are even self-driving cars on the road. That may be scary for some drivers of those cars; it is even scarier to think that one of those cars is on the road with you.

Even in this age of self-driving or semi-self-driving vehicles, it is hard to let go of our belief that we can do a better job of driving or flying. More than that, we hold the same attitude about our own lives. “I am in control; I don’t need anyone’s help.” Our own experience should tell us that is not true. We mess up frequently. Life is a team sport; we need other people to help us get by. We need to trust in God to get by.

Some people believe that God is in perfect control of everything we do. We think we have our hands on the steering wheel, but God is really doing the driving. Others say that God doesn’t control every minute aspect of our lives. Either way, though, there are times that we have to “let go and let God.” We have to trust the autopilot and let go of the controls.

The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. (Ps 18:2)

Even if God doesn’t control every circumstance around you, trust that he has the power to put your best interests first. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Prov 3:5) Of course, that means that you need to follow God’s lead, and the only way to do that is through diligent study of and obedience to the word he has given us.

There is another aspect of letting the autopilot do its thing. Even in the church we often have the attitude that we can earn our salvation. If we do enough good works they will outweigh the bad. Even after we die God will purge our sins and we will eventually make it to heaven. We can be saved by what we do, whether it be accumulating good works or saying the “sinner’s prayer.” All these things are ways people decide they can drive better than the autopilot. The problem is, they are about to crash land and they don’t know it.

If we could save ourselves, then God is a liar. If we could save ourselves, Jesus died for nothing. None of us is without sin, and so it takes a sinless sacrifice to make us holy. No matter the number of good works, “one oops counteracts a thousand attaboys.” (At least that is the clean version of the saying.) The world’s first fully self-driving car went thousands of miles before its first accident; a better safety record than many people. If a computer-driven car can do so well, how much better can the ultimate programmer do with your life?