Spiritual Vertigo: Unrecognized Deviation From Our Desired Orientation
"Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit." -Romans 8:5
The crash of John F. Kennedy Jr. on the night of July 16, 1999, off the island of Martha's Vineyard, which killed him, his wife, and her sister, brought public attention to the consequences of what's called "vertigo" or "spatial disorientation." Richard Bunker of the Massachusetts Aeronautical Commission, who investigated the Kennedy crash for the state, says the investigation of an air crash is a process of elimination. You start with the airplane. After eliminating structural or mechanical problems, you look at external factors, such as weather.
Then the investigation turns to the pilot. You examine his or her training and experience, medical history, personal life, and possible extenuating factors. Eventually, Bunker says, the evidence and the circumstances point to "well, maybe we're looking at spatial disorientation."
Kennedy did not have an instrument rating. He was flying at night over water with visibility as low as three miles in haze, meaning there were few lights and no visual horizon for reference. About 10 miles from Martha's Vineyard, he deviated from course and made a number of maneuvers suggesting he was lost or disoriented. The final radar track showed the airplane in a tightening right-hand turn -- called a graveyard spiral -- that reached a descent rate exceeding 4,700 feet per minute before the airplane hit the water.
Unrecognized spatial disorientation (vertigo) refers to situations where the pilot fails to perceive a change from the desired orientation of the airplane. In Kennedy's situation, the graveyard spiral is a form of vertigo where he was unaware the airplane was turning to the right, but sensing the nose drop and a loss of altitude, he pulled back on the yoke to try to regain altitude. But since he is in a turn, pulling back the yoke usually results in a tighter turn and a drop of the nose, causing a further loss of altitude. The sequence continued until he hit the water.
Recognized spatial disorientation occurs when the pilot realizes there is a conflict between the flight instrument readings and what his body senses is the correct orientation. Instrument pilots are trained specifically to NOT rely on body sensations to determine the truth of their orientation, but to trust in their flight instruments. Flying through clouds and/or losing the horizon as a reference point can create an illusion of the true orientation. In the case where the pilot recognizes the conflict, he has a choice to make in regard to what he believes to be true.
I believe this is a brilliant illustration of what the Apostle Paul is teaching us in the above passage in Romans. Paul contrasts two orientations to life that each believer must choose between.
Our primary orientation is determined by the information that we most rely on, either from our flesh, or from our spirit. On a more practical level, this means we are to shift our primary orientation from living by our five senses, physical appetites, and emotions to living by what has occurred in our spirit.
The trouble for many believers is their lack of experiential revelation and confidence in what has happened in their spirit. Paul makes this astounding declaration about those who are saved, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation... old things have passed away....all things have become new.... God was in Christ reconciling the world... not imputing their trespasses to them...that we (our spirit) might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:17-21).
Old things that passed away.... We were under condemnation before God. Familiarity with this truth allows us to pass over it rather quickly. I recently was asked, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" If we don't see the assumption made in this question, we are tempted to get offended at God. We deserve wrath. Yet, it has fallen on Jesus. We were powerless at the heart level to challenge sin. We were in complete darkness (unaware of our own graveyard spiral), lacking the ability to understand God's Word or receive God's orientation for life. We were destitute, without hope for a good future in God.
All things have become new.... We are accepted and enjoyed by God. I am accepted and enjoyed by God. Do you believe that? Feel it? Our darkness and powerlessness have passed, and we now have the authority of Jesus' name and the indwelling Spirit. This enables us to challenge sin, lies, sickness, and receive the understanding of God, His Word, and His will. We now have significant destiny in God and the ability to partner with Him in what He is doing.
As I write this, I'm aware of the poverty of these words to describe the incredible treasure that resides in our spirit. And this is where the challenge comes in: we do not feel or discern our spirit. Our spirit man is "spirit" and therefore, it is invisible, indiscernible, and even "hidden" from our five senses. God has created us with three parts -- spirit, soul, and body (1 Thes. 5:23). Thus, man is a spirit, he has a soul, and he lives in a body. Our spirit is radically refashioned upon regeneration, and cannot be measured by our emotions (soul) or five senses (body). Paul refers to our true life, or our true spirit man "hidden" in Christ:
"For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:3-4).
When I was doing my instrument flight training years ago, I had to re-train myself to discern the truth of the airplanes' orientation. Before the instrument training, I determined the truth of my position by relying on my senses - sight, sound, and sensory feeling. But I quickly learned in order to fly in the clouds, I needed to transfer the locus of truth onto the flight instruments. At times it was challenging and strange to maneuver the aircraft in the opposite way I felt. Even though it didn't feel right, my life counted on the fact that I put my faith in the truth of those instruments - and acted accordingly.
In a similar way, Paul says, "don't be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). Simply put, we are transformed by changing the way we think. Our minds need to be in agreement with God's Word, and what has taken place in our spirit. If we don't have confidence in our heart regarding what's true about our spirit, or if we refuse to set our minds on the Spirit, we will by default live with spiritual vertigo (disorientation).
Similar to what was stated above, there are two types of spiritual vertigo: 1) being unaware your heart's orientation is primarily set on the flesh, and 2) realizing there is a conflict allowing you to actively orient yourself to be in agreement with God's truth even when it doesn't feel natural. In order to battle spiritual vertigo, I want to challenge you to place your trust in the "flight instruments" in your spirit: 1) know who you are in Christ, 2) have the confidence of feeling enjoyed by God, 3) regularly talk with the Holy Spirit by confessing the Word back to Him, and 4) develop the ability to act in the opposite spirit of your emotions.
Our primary orientation is determined by the information that we most rely on, either from our flesh (five senses, emotions, and physical appetites), or from our spirit.
In the spirit realm, there's no such thing as auto-pilot. I want to challenge you to be alert, recognize any deviations from your desired orientation, and make the necessary course corrections.
What information are you relying on?