Like many, I’ve been following the story of the Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings pilot who deliberately crashed the plane he was co-piloting from Barcelona to Dusseldorf into the French Alps this week, killing himself and 149 other precious human beings. It is a disturbing story, on so many levels. We read, we watch, we listen with mouths open, aghast. What could possibly drive someone to do such a thing? We struggle to make sense out of the senseless. We sift around in the wreckage, as it were, trying to find something—anything—that might allow us to place this event into intelligible moral categories.
One of the categories that is quickly rising to the surface is, predictably, that of some form or another of mental illness. There are reports of torn up doctors’ notes, of past “depressive incidents,” of Lubitz’s attempts to hide his illness from employers, of an “existing condition with appropriate medical treatments.” There are a few pieces being assembled of a narrative of a sick man. And the evidence that is discovered as the days move forward might fill out this picture. Who knows?
But as I read another article attempting to fill in the picture of Lubitz today, I was struck by how utterly ordinary and non-threatening he seemed to everyone around him. Neighbours report very little of note—nothing that would even remotely hint at the horrific thing he did this week. He seemed not to have any radical political or religious leanings. He passed all of his flight tests (including psychological tests) with flying colours. He appeared to genuinely love his job. He was part of a hang-gliding club. He even jogged regularly, for heaven’s sakes! How could anyone who embraced this most estimable of modern virtues be responsible for such a reprehensible deed?!
Whatever dark secrets, whatever anger or despair Mr. Lubitz might have been carrying around with him, he seems—at least at this admittedly early stage of the proceedings—to have hidden them extremely well.
I’ve been thinking about the things we hide this afternoon. We humans are very adept at hiding, aren’t we? It is a necessary survival skill in the world such as ours. We laugh at little kids who so often say what they’re really thinking minus the filters that we accumulate over time. But as we get older, we learn that saying what we really think is dangerous. We know that revealing who we really are can lead to getting wounded, that it might open us up to ridicule and misunderstanding. We know that our professional and social lives often depend on keeping some things tucked safely away, never to be exposed to the scrutiny of others. People sometimes remark that I am “vulnerable” in the way that I speak and write. That may be true, but only to a point. There are obviously many parts of myself that I would never reveal in a sermon or here on this blog. I don’t always say exactly what I’m thinking because I know it’s risky. What would people say if they knew what I really thought about x? How would they react if they knew how I felt about y? We all hide parts of ourselves from others every day, sometimes probably in ways we are barely even aware of.
The human story is a story of hiding. In the biblical narrative, it doesn’t even take three chapters for hiding to make an appearance. What’s the first thing that Adam and Eve do after their famous transgression?
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:8-10).
I was afraid. I hid. And the fear and the hiding have continued unabated ever since.
We hide because we are afraid of transparency. We also hide because we are ashamed of the things that we do, the things that we have done, the things we will do. We hide because of our sin, to use an unfashionable word. The prophet Jeremiah famously said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Who, indeed. Jeremiah’s understanding of what makes human beings do the things that they do is unpopular in a time where we hunger for explanations that come with a white lab coat, where we will only countenance medical and neurological causes for awful human behaviour. But it may just have parsimony on its side.
We will probably never know precisely what Andreas Lubitz was hiding, just as the deepest and darkest things that lurk beneath the surface of most human lives will likely remain a mystery to us. We will keep on hiding because hiding is necessary in a world where awful things happen, where we do awful things to one another.
But I am convinced that one day the hiding will stop.
I quote 1 Corinthians 13 a lot in my writing and preaching. Like, a lot. I think it is one of the most beautiful chapters in all of Scripture. The Apostle Paul’s language soars as he attempts to give voice to the beauty, the primacy, the ultimacy of love. But as I frequently marvel at the love language contained in this passage of all passages, I often skip right by verse 12:
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
The hope of new creation means many things to many people. Peace, justice, harmony, the wiping away of every tear, life eternal, shalom. But some days I am just brave enough to also look forward to the experience of knowing and being fully known.
Just as I am. Just as we are. No filters. No shame. No more hiding.