Sometimes we are so overwhelmed at being treated better than we deserve that we must exult in the all-sovereign God—the God of birds’ flight and Obama’s rise. When King David pondered how many were God’s “wondrous deeds,” he said, “I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told” (Psalm 40:5). That’s the way I feel watching God’s public mercies in the last few days.
Have you considered how unlikely was the crash of USAir flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15—not just the rescue but the crash itself? Picture this: The Airbus A320 is taking off at an angle—maybe 30 degrees. It’s not flying horizontal with the earth. Not only that, it is flying fast—not full speed yet, but perhaps four times as fast as your car would go at top highway speeds.
The geese are flying horizontally with the ground, more or less. They are not flying in a cloud like a swarm of bees. They fly level with the ground, often shaped like a V. In view of all that, what are the odds that, traveling at this speed and at this angle, this airplane would intersect with the flight of those geese at that very millisecond which would put a bird not just in one of those engines, but both of them?
Two laser-guided missiles would not have been as amazingly effective as were those geese. It is incredible, statistically speaking. If God governs nature down to the fall (and the flight) of every bird, as Jesus says (Matthew 10:29), then the crash of flight 1549 was designed by God.
Which leads to the landing in the Hudson River—which is just as unlikely. The airbus now has no thrust in either engine. The flight attendants said it was as quiet as a library in the plane without the sound of engines. The plane is now a 77-ton glider with its belly full of fuel. Captain Sullenberger decides to land in the river. Anywhere else would mean one big fireball.
He banks and misses the George Washington Bridge by 900 feet and glides the plane into a perfect belly landing. A few degrees tilt to the front or back or the right or left and the plane would have done cartwheels down the river and broken up. On the water, the flight attendant does not let passengers open the rear door. That would have flooded the cabin too fast. The emergency doors and front doors provide exits for everyone and the plane floats long enough for all of them to climb out. Ferry boats are there almost instantly. The captain walks the aisle twice to make sure everyone is off. Then he leaves. Later the plane sinks.
If God guides geese so precisely, he also guides the captain’s hands. God knew that when he took the plane down, he would also give a spectacular deliverance. So why would he do that? If he means for all to live, why not just skip the crash?
Because he meant to give our nation a parable of his power and mercy the week before a new President takes office. God can take down a plane any time he pleases—and if he does, he wrongs no one. Apart from Christ, none of us deserves anything from God but judgment. We have belittled him so consistently that he would be perfectly just to take any of us any time in any way he chooses.
But God is longsuffering. He is slow to anger. He withholds wrath every day. This is what we saw in the parable. The crash of Flight 1549 illustrates God’s right and power to judge. The landing of the plane represents God’s mercy. It was God’s call to all the passengers and all their families and all who heard the story to repent and turn to God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and receive forgiveness for sin.
I am writing these thoughts on the evening after the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States. I cried twice today. There were two points when I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. Once was when I prayed with some brothers after Obama’s speech and was overcome with the sinfulness of my own racist background. The other was in trying to express my emotion to an African-American brother about what this must mean for him.
As much as I reject Obama’s stance on abortion, I am thankful to the bottom of my soul that an African-American can be President of United States. The enormousness of it all is unspeakable. This is God’s doing. The geese were God’s doing. The landing of Flight 1549 was God’s doing. And the Obama presidency is God’s doing. “He removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21).
And I pray that President Obama has eyes to see. The “miracle on the Hudson” and the “miracle in the White House” are not unrelated. God has been merciful to us as a nation. Our racial sins deserved judgment a thousand times over. God does not owe America anything. We owe him everything. And instead of destruction, he has given us another soft landing. We are not dead at the bottom of the Hudson.
O that Barack Obama would see the mercies of God and look to the One whose blood bought everlasting life for all who trust him. The parables of God’s mercy are everywhere. The point of them is this: God is a just and patient Ruler, and Jesus Christ is a great Savior. Turn. Turn. Turn, O President of the United States and passengers of this planet.
Full of thanks for all God’s mercies,
Pastor John Piper