Jim O’Neil was flying a small Cessna aircraft from Scotland to southeastern England in the fall of 2008. He was alone and flying at 5,500 feet, when, 40 minutes into his flight, he suddenly went blind. He initially believed he’d been dazzled by bright sunlight, but he soon realized something more serious had happened. Later he learned he had suffered a stroke from a blood clot. In his emergency call for help, he said, “I want to land, ASAP.”
Radar controller Richard Eggleston repeatedly asked, “Are you visual?” O’Neil replied each time, “No sir, negative; I’m sorry, sir.” He just kept apologizing, and Eggleston said, “You could hear the apprehension in his voice over the radio and the frustration he was experiencing.”
Royal Air Force Wing Commander Paul Gerrard was just finishing a training flight nearby and was drafted to help the stricken pilot. He located O’Neil’s plane and began flying close to it and giving directions by radio. “A gentle right hand turn, please,” instructed Gerrard at one point. He later explained, “Landing an aircraft literally blind needs someone to be right there to say, ‘Left a bit, right a bit, stop, down.’ On the crucial final approach, even with radar assistance you need to take over visually. That’s when having a fellow pilot there was so important.” Eventually, O’Neil’s plane hit the runway and bounced up again. It did the same on the second attempt, but on the third O’Neil was able to keep his plane on the ground. Imagine the relief!
Have you ever been blinded and in danger? Most of us have been, but not by a stroke and not while flying a plane. We’ve been blinded by a great variety of other causes. What we lost was not physical sight, but something even more valuable. We lost our spiritual resolve to honor Christ and do the right thing. We lost the ability even to see the right and distinguish it from the wrong. Whether it was addiction, lust, pride, general selfishness, greed, competitiveness or whatever, we were left like Jim O’Neil, in great need of help. Too often, however, we didn’t even know we were blind and in danger.
The Pharisees around Jesus were blinded by their prideful orthodoxy. Jesus repeatedly called them blind guides (Matthew 15:14; 23:16,17,19,26) and added, “If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” They were already in a pit of self-righteousness, but couldn’t see it. Paul blamed the devil for some blindness when he wrote, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) But, he added, “We do not lose heart.” And later, “For God…made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
At some point, believers and unbelievers alike need someone like Gerrard to fly alongside and give us directions. After the ordeal, he said, “I was just glad to help a fellow aviator in distress.” Where are you right now? Like O’Neil, are you willing to admit you are blind and need help? Or, like Gerrard, are you available to help someone else in distress? May God shine His light in our hearts, open our eyes of faith and help us bring others to His safety!
Article copyright (c) 2009 by Charles G. Mickey. All rights reserved.