Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him. Saul’s servants then said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you.” – 1 Samuel 16:14-15
November 28, 1979. Air New Zealand Flight 901, a large passenger jet with 257 people on board, left Auckland Airport in New Zealand for what was planned as a short sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to Captain Jim Collins and co-pilot Greg Cassin, flight coordinates in the on-board navigation system had somehow been incorrectly modified by a mere two degrees the night before. They were never notified.
The error placed Flight 901 some 28 miles east of where the pilots assumed they were. Approaching Antarctica, the plane descended to a lower altitude, giving the passengers a better view of the landscape. Although experienced pilots, neither men in the cockpit had made this particular flight before, and had no way of knowing the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s second-highest active volcano rising more than 12,000 feet from the frozen landscape. The inevitable result was tragic: everyone on board died in the crash.
This heartbreaking disaster was brought on by a single, minor error – a small, misplaced step even before the flight began with drastic consequences.
Our lives are sometimes like that. We make decisions leading us astray one step here, one step there. Nothing major in the moment yet potentially disastrous in the long wrong. A furtive glance at a bar followed by a “harmless” text; trying something “just once” because everyone else is; a little exaggerated accomplishment on a resume; a mindless bit of diversion on the internet when no one is looking; that extra, last shot at 2 am (ok, so maybe that one was from personal experience). Small steps.
Scripture tells this story multiple times. One example is the downfall of Saul, King of Israel. His life beginning with great promise, Saul met a tragic end after starting as a “choice young man.” 1 Samuel 9:2
Saul’s shortcoming was a simple one: he was given very explicit instructions by God concerning the Amalekites but instead, he acted on his own. In fact, he believed his disobedience was actually pleasing to God! He spared the Amalekite king and saved a few sheep and cattle to use as a sacrifice. As we read in verses 14 and 15, God was not pleased at all.
Consider the situation. Here is Saul, trying to take the initiative, more or less accomplishing the task, but missing one small detail. Because he acted on his own. For those who know the story, things don’t end well for Saul. God rejects him as king of Israel and anoints David as his successor.
The life of Samson as told in Judges 13-16 is a similar story. His march to ruin happened one small step at time, one bad decision followed by another. He taunts his enemy (step). He excused his current behavior because he had done it before (step). He believed his actions had no consequences (step).
The difference of a misstep, whether on an airborne flight without the pilots’ knowledge, or with a king’s inability to follow God’s call, may seem trivial. Yet the consequences can be disastrous. Like dominoes, one decision results in another decision and another, each built on the first domino. Without a pattern interrupt or mid-course correction an unnecessary consequence becomes unavoidable.
And this, ultimately, is the power of Grace. The small steps we’ve each taken on the road to where we are can be undone through God’s limitless Salvation. While this doesn’t free our decisions from consequence, it does mean we are not forever chained to our mistakes. And unlike the pilots of flight 901, we can correct for those two degrees of flight coordinates.
To be sure, it may take many more small steps to undo our choices from yesterday. We may not be able to leap from the proverbial frying pan and clear the fire all at once. But we have the ability through Grace to take that first new step.
God gives us the chance to reclaim our lives. We have to find the strength and faith to believe. And then, with God’s help, we can erase the guilt of our past and walk confidently into the future created for us.