Fire in the Night Sky—Wisdom and Comfort

USAF Air Commando A-26K Counter Invader
USAF Air Commando A-26K Counter Invader

In January and February 1967, during the Vietnam War, I was flying combat missions over Laos and North Vietnam.  I was assigned to a USAF Air Commando squadron operating out of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, flying the navigator-copilot position in an A-26K, a twin-prop attack-bomber descended from the World War II Douglas B-26. Nakhon Phanom is on the Laotian border and only 30 minutes by air from the Ho Chi Minh Trial coming out of North Vietnam.  Our most used weapon was a set of six .50 caliber machine guns in the nose, but we had four weapon stations on each wing and generally carried two 1,000 pound bombs in the bomb-bay. Our main mission was night-armed-reconnaissance interdicting North Vietnamese supply trucks, but we sometimes attacked enemy anti-aircraft guns or enemy troop concentrations.  We were much slower than jet attack-bombers, but we could stay on station much longer and were considerably more accurate in identifying and destroying targets.

On February 27, we were paired with another A-26 to attack a large truck convoy coming out of North Vietnam.  We sometimes used a crew of three on special missions, but on this night each aircraft operated with the standard crew of two.  I am not going to go into detail on this harrowing and tragic mission, because my main message in this article is for readers to understand the comfort that is available to us in the doctrine of God’s Providence. That night I had to bail out of a disabled and burning A-26 at night, with only one engine operating, at an altitude of only 700 feet.  The aircraft blew up in the air about three seconds after we bailed out.  We both survived, rather miraculously, but our two best friends in the other aircraft were killed.

We had known we were in desperate danger for about 20 minutes before having to bail out. A favorite verse, probably the favorite of many aviators, kept running through my head:

Matthew 10: 29-30.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are numbered.”

Despite my very high state of adrenalin, I focused on doing my job and that verse, also sending up many shorter prayers as the situation became increasingly desperate.  

In my first attempt to bailout of our now barely flyable aircraft, the wind stream knocked me back into the cockpit and entangled me in my harness and seatbelt.  At that point I felt I had no chance of survival, but made another lunge at the wing. The verse that went through my head was:

Psalm 31: 5.  “Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” 

Three seconds later the mid-air explosion of our aircraft seemed brighter than the sun to observers nearly ten miles away.  I do not know why God intervened to save us but not our friends. They died in a heroic effort to assess and then warn us of flames that were spreading beneath us to a fuel tank. Certainly, it was grace and not some merit on our part. Yet I have always believed it was for some providential purpose, mysterious to us, but nevertheless significant to God, our lives, and our impact on the lives of others.  We need to live up to the significance that God’s constant providential care gives us. I believe it is important for Christians to frequently consider the awesome Providence that directs our lives and our world. That same Providence should also give us great comfort that we are significant to God, and he cares for us. Below I have listed some favorite quotes about Providence:

First a definition: “God’s providence is His constant care for and His absolute rule over all creation for His own glory and the good of His people.”—Jerry Bridges.

“God is the cause of causes.”—Christopher Nesse

“The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident; they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God…All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it.”—Margaret Clarkson

“To be God and sovereign are inseparable.”—Stephen Charnock

“When God ordains anything to come to pass, His purpose in doing so is altogether and absolutely good,”—R.C. Sproul

“Nothing is too large or small to escape God’s governing hand.  The spider building its web in the corner and Napoleon marching his army across Europe are both under God’s control.”—Jerry Bridges

“There are ultimately no loose ends in God’s world.”—D. A. Carson

“As God’s rule is incomprehensible, so is it invincible.  His throne is not moved.  He breaks through all resistance, and makes the universe servant to the coming of His kingdom.  The rule of God is the gladness of his people.”—G. C. Berkouwer

“God is in the facts of history as truly as He is in the march of the seasons, the revolutions of the planets, or the architecture of the worlds.”—John Lanham

“The Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the free moral choices of men with equal emphasis.  It is impossible for us to reject either of these great truths, and it is equally impossible for our minds to reconcile them.”—Jerry Bridges

“Man falls according as God’s Providence ordains, but he falls by his own fault.”—John Calvin

“The world little dreams the things that are wrought by prayer.”—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“If we would avoid  a senseless natural philosophy we must always start with this principle: that everything in nature depends upon the will of God, and that the whole course of nature is only the prompt carrying into effect of His orders…There is no such thing as fortune or chance.’—John Calvin

“The providence of God is more often than not invested in the events which were by you considered unexpected or unimportant.”—Stephen Brown

“Nothing, therefore, happens unless the Omnipotent wills it to happen:  He either permits it to happen, or He brings it about himself.”—Augustine

“God knows the way that you take; you don’t know His.”—Elizabeth Elliot

“How ravishing and delectable a sight will it be to behold at one view the whole design of Providence, and the proper place and use of every single act which we could not understand in this world..”—John Flavel

Proverbs 16: 9 “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”

Proverbs 16: 33 “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

“The nature of God’s divine goodness is not only to open to those who knock, but also to cause them to knock and ask.”—Augustine

“When God intends great mercy for his people, the first thing he does is set them apraying.”

—Matthew Henry

“The truth is this:  The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged.  It is history that teaches us to hope.”—Robert E. Lee, near the end of his life.

The Old Testament book of Esther never mentions God directly, but it clearly teaches the Sovereign Providence of God.

Some say that God helps those who help themselves. It is true that God often expects us to show our faith by our actions, but the primary and consistent message of Scripture is to place our trust in the Lord.  God’s Providence teaches our significance and value and gives us security, purpose, and hope.

“None of us are safe until we take refuge in God.”—Samuel Cox

Psalm 121: 1-2 “I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

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