Why Should a Christian Bother?
Daily spiritual struggles, constant challenges to a Christian’s faith, the potential for persecution: with so many negatives, why would any Christian even want to be a fighter pilot?
Many of the articles on this website deal with the pessimistic aspects of trying to be an authentic Christian in a sometimes immoral fighter pilot world. This was primarily a somewhat zealous attempt to “set straight” any “starry-eyed” would-be fighter pilots, and it failed to consider those who honestly know very little (good or bad) about the fighter pilot world. A dearth of positive articles may lead some to believe that there isn’t any good in being a fighter pilot and that there’s no respectable reason for a Christian to be a fighter pilot. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are awesome and positive things about being a fighter pilot, and the fighter pilot world even has aspects that make it desirable as a Christian career.
Fighter Pilots are Respected
While they may not know the details of a fighter pilot’s duties, many people “know” about the grueling selection process and arduous training that fighter pilots endure; they know that only the best become fighter pilots, and many wish they could be one. With the sole (and arguable) exception of astronauts, more people want to be fighter pilots than any other part of aviation. Many wish they could, but few actually can—it is an elite and select career field. Because of its exclusivity and universal draw, a Christian that becomes a fighter pilot garners immediate respect and credibility for his professional abilities. That respect and credibility can be an enormous enabler outside the fighter pilot world.
Fighter Pilots have an Audience
For better or worse, the fighter pilot profession also creates an instant conversational topic with absolutely any person in the world. It seems that every human being either was a fighter pilot, wants to be a fighter pilot, wants to talk to a fighter pilot, or has a piece of their mind they’d like to give a fighter pilot. The crowd that routinely surrounds fighter pilots at events like airshows is made up of everyone from toddlers to veterans of every armed conflict since World War I. A fighter pilot’s career gives him something uniquely “common” with virtually every person he meets. Combined with the credibility of his profession, his universal “conversational topic” gives a Christian fighter pilot a distinct and far-reaching witness opportunity.
Fighter Pilots Serve
Though the popularity of being a fighter pilot may give a Christian unique opportunities with the public, there are some distinctly personal reasons that some may want to be fighter pilots. Fighter pilots have the noble purpose of serving the greater good, and they have the unique ability to individually make an enormous impact on the outcome of a conflict. While many people are involved in the intelligence and support of a successful operation, it was a single fighter pilot that skillfully employed his laser guided bomb and killed the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq in June 2006. Few people outside of the fighter pilot community get the opportunity to individually have such a significant impact (or to have their personal accomplishments displayed so prominently on the news). People want to be fighter pilots to make a significant, lasting, and valuable contribution to the defense of democracy. They are willing to risk their lives (and take lives, if necessary) to preserve the freedoms of others.
It’s Fun to be a Fighter Pilot
Though less “noble,” it is important to remember that being a fighter pilot is also downright fun. Fighter pilots fly multi-million dollar aircraft that have guns, missiles, bombs, can pull 9 Gs and speed to Mach 2; they can fly upside down, hold formation within inches of other aircraft, fly so high they can see the curvature of the earth or so low they can count the spots on the cows. Being a fighter pilot is a continuous, changing, tactical challenge. No mission is ever the same. Flying a fighter is unquestionably exciting and gratifying. While heavy pilots also “fly,” the experience is entirely different. Heavy aircraft have crews, while most fighters are single-seat. Fighter pilots independently make split-second decisions; there’s no leadership by committee. With some notable exceptions, most heavy pilots are support assets. They focus on takeoff and landing and don’t have a “tactical” mission. While it may seem denigrating, some refer to heavy pilots as “bus drivers” while fighters are considered “race car drivers.” Heavies are essential to the mission, but their contribution is different.
Why Do It?
While those aspects of flying fighters are enviable, if the life of a fighter pilot is so tough, why become one? Though spiritual fatigue is a genuine threat, the potential opportunities for a Christian are colossal: being part of the salvation of a dead-to-God fighter pilot, making an eternal impact on enlisted troops with a Christian leadership example, providing spiritual support for a struggling younger Christian fighter pilot, being a Godly example during combat operations, influencing the direction of an entire fighter squadron with moral and ethical leadership….the possibilities are endless. Still, they are just possibilities; a Christian fighter pilot may go for a long time before seeing any impact of his witness. If he still struggled under spiritual pressures, why would he want to go through that difficulty? Well, why does a football player subject himself to punishing physical exertion everyday for a dozen games a year? Why does a marathon runner punish his body every day for weeks on end for an individual race? In today’s age of publicity and muckraking, why would any humble man of integrity aspire to be a politician for any length of time?
Ultimately, the answer to those questions is easier than it sounds. Why would anyone seek any profession that is difficult? The reason people participate in challenging careers is because they enjoy what they do, as odd as that may seem to an outsider. A football player treasures the glory of the game and the feeling of victory. A marathon runner relishes the rhythmic pounding of his feet on the pavement and the knowledge that he’s pushing his physical limits. People join government because they value the political process and the feeling that they are helping their constituents. People become fighter pilots because they enjoy the freedom of flying a fighter and the knowledge that they are serving their fellow man. People choose difficult professions because they enjoy them.
The true question, though, is if the life of a fighter pilot is so hard for a Christian, why would any Christian want to become a fighter pilot? Believe it or not, the answer is the same. If a Christian enjoys the thought of flying a fighter and serving his fellow man in armed conflict, then a fighter pilot career may fit him well. What about spiritual issues? They are nearly irrelevant. Yes, a Christian should always try to understand as much as possible about the spiritual environment he’s going to encounter (as this website tries to do for the potential fighter pilot). If a Christian honestly believes that there is no way he could live that life without being miserable or giving in to the pressures of the world, then perhaps he should consider another profession. If he thinks he can positively impact that spiritual environment, then that may be one factor in his career choice. Otherwise, outside of direct Divine guidance, I believe Christians should pursue careers they think they will enjoy. Again, the answer is similar for every career: Christians become fighter pilots because they enjoy the freedom of flying a fighter and the knowledge that they are serving their fellow man. Religious and secular stresses take place in every profession. A Christian in a career he enjoys is best equipped to persevere; the question, then, is not what should a Christian do, but what does he want to do?
Within the bounds of reason and God’s will, I believe Christians should pursue careers that they will enjoy. I question those who would abandon their talents, expertise, and job satisfaction, even if it’s for the mission field. It’s one thing for someone to move their talents to missions, like a fighter pilot who chooses to enter the field of mission aviation. It’s quite another for someone to abandon them, like a computer scientist who moves into the field without running water or electricity. Is that where God wants him? Possibly, but God also gave him a passion and unique set of skills. I don’t believe that people with drive, desire, and talent should necessarily give up what they love because of the potential for spiritual hardship or the thought they can do better for God somewhere else. Someone with a Masters in Physics who has never touched a hammer will probably be miserable (and unsuccessful) if he tries to become a carpenter simply because of the lost souls in carpentry or the spiritual struggles in the Physics community. I believe someone who loves computer science should be the best Christian computer scientist he can be; one who enjoys Physics should be the best Christian physicist he can be; one who enjoys flying should be the best Christian pilot he can be. I believe God gave us passion and skills so that we could use them to His glory.
A Christian should choose the life he thinks he’ll enjoy, and then work for God in it. The reason that there are Christian politicians, rock stars, motorcycle gang members, and fighter pilots is Christians who were drawn to those lifestyles entered those worlds and worked for God. Besides, Christians were commanded to go into the world. If Christians avoid careers that aren’t friendly toward spiritual values, large portions of the world will be abandoned, and humanity will be no better off for our place in it. Unfortunately, the American military has committed vile acts and atrocities in the past (My Lai, Abu Ghraib, to name two famous examples), and some have been left to wonder: Where are the ethics? Where are the morals? Where are the Christians? If Christians avoid spiritually challenging parts of the military world then they can only lament the state of American military ethics from afar. Christians can’t influence the world unless they’re in it.
Should a Christian be a heavy pilot or a fighter pilot? Should he even be in the Air Force? Ultimately, any Christian should seek God’s will in his career choices. Once assured that his options are within God’s desires for his life, I believe a Christian should do whatever he wants to—he should pick the career path that he will enjoy living. There are potential spiritual negatives to any career, and, yes, the ones for the fighter pilot are particularly acute. A Christian working his hardest at what he loves will make the greatest impact for God in this world.