Christian Living · Death · Salvation and Justification

Spiritual Lessons from the Malaysian Flight MH17 Tragedy

It would take the skill of a gifted historian—or perhaps a novelist—to reconstruct the murder of the reported 295 precious souls aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which was downed by a missile fired inside the Ukraine on July 17. The Boeing 777, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was flying at cruising altitude—33,000 feet—when it suddenly exploded into a ball of fire and smoke, and came crashing to earth. There were no survivors.

This was not the first time Russian military weaponry downed a commercial airline, and it will probably not be the last. On September 1, 1983, a scheduled Korean Air Lines flight from New York City to Seoul, Korea via Anchorage was shot down by a Soviet SU-15 Interceptor near Moneron Island in the Sea of Japan. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed. The Russians have a documented history of killing indiscriminately because, as President Ronald Reagan reminded the world in 1983, “That is who they are.” Not all Russians are alike, of course, or even approve of their government’s behavior, but President Putin—by training as a KGB agent, by political instinct, by indoctrination, by a godless ideology of atheism—is a natural born killer. The world never seems to be able to recognize mad men, nor have the will to restrain them, until such leaders start world wars. But by then, it is too late.

As the news reporters, social and political analysts, state department officials, the president, and other pundits comment on the downing of MH17, it is unlikely any of them will bring attention to the spiritual dimensions of this incident. That is another tragedy in itself, for something should be said about the downing of MH17 from a Christian perspective.

First, it must be said that those who died were no worse than others. No doubt the temptation will come from some people to ascribe a reason for the plane being destroyed for some sinister reason. For example, those who oppose homosexuality might want to imply that God’s hand of judgment was upon flight MH17 because there was a large number of AIDS researchers traveling to an international conference in Australia. That would be wrong to do. The Bible says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The people on the plane who died were no worse than others who have died suddenly and without warning. It is important to remember this guiding principle established by Jesus in Luke 13:1-4, in order to issue a far more reaching warning which is that gospel repentance must be embraced, or all shall perish, not just in death, but in eternity. The tragedy of flight MH17 reminds individuals that life is short, death is certain, eternity is real, and every person must be prepared to meet God.

Second, flight MH 17 is a sobering reminder of the preciousness of life and how quickly it can pass. “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (Jas. 4:14). Time and distance may separate individuals, circumstances beyond one’s control may move a person in a direction they may wish was different, but a daily expression of love can be constant. When there is love, and it is known, individuals are never really alone. A loved one is as close to the heart as the next thought. The sudden termination of the lives of those on flight MH17 is a reminder to tell others daily you love them.

Third, flight MH17 provides individuals an opportunity to turn one’s thoughts to eternal matters. Those who believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior have the hope of eternal life. There is great comfort for the person who believes that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Eternal life is possible because the soul is immortal. Helen Keller once said, “I believe in the immortality of the soul because I have within me immortal longings.” When a Christian dies, the immortal longings of the soul are satisfied.

Others live, and die, without hope. The famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Friendship, like the immortality of the soul, is too good to be believed.” If Emerson was right, death does not matter much, and neither does one’s life.

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5

For two thousand years the Christian message has been that the soul was made distinct from the body at creation because it was made in the image of God. Only God can give life which means that only God can take life. Therefore the Christian is compelled to tell others about the gift of God which is eternal life through Jesus Christ the Lord. George Whitefield noted, “If your souls were not immortal, and you in danger of losing them, I would not thus speak unto you; but the love of your souls constrains me to speak: methinks this would constrain me to speak unto you forever.”

The love of God constrains Christians to tell others that life has purpose, definition, and meaning—and so does death. Death becomes a gateway to eternity and into the presence of God. And when the process of death is unexpected and sudden, there is a Savior who bears the sorrows of His people, and sends the Holy Spirit to comfort them. In a time of bloodshed and violence, in a time of incredible tragedy, we need a Savior.

Believe on the Lord Jesus and the last enemy—death—shall be defeated.

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