Faith, God, Grace

Moral Transformation

My wife and I had to babysit our daughter last Saturday evening so we decided to watch a DVD after putting her to bed. It has been quite a while since we watched an inspiring movie with an important moral message. The heartening thing is that the movie was a box office success grossing over $160 million worldwide and received mostly positive reviews, not too bad when relativism and amorality are on the rise in many parts of the world.

For those who have not watched the movie Flight, here is an extract of the plot from Wikipedia (in italics). Airline captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) awakens in his Orlando hotel room with flight attendant Katerina “Trina” Márquez (Nadine Velazquez) after a night of sex, drinking, drug use, and very little sleep. After using cocaine to wake up, he boards SouthJet Flight 227 as pilot to Atlanta. After Whip threads the plane through severe turbulence at takeoff, copilot Ken Evans takes over while Whip discreetly mixes vodka in his orange juice and takes a nap.

He is jolted awake as the plane begins an uncommanded descent and the aircraft goes into a steep dive. Unable to regain pitch control, Whip evenly issues instructions to Ken and lead flight attendant Margaret – both panicked – to assist him as he rolls the plane upside down to arrest the dive and achieve stable flight. While this is happening in the cockpit, a child passenger falls from his seat, so Trina leaves her seat to help him.

The engines fail and Whip realizes they will not make it to a runway. He rolls the plane upright, and makes a controlled, unpowered landing in an open field in Clayton County, Georgia. Whip loses consciousness on impact, and is dragged out of the aircraft by a passenger.

Whip awakens in an Atlanta hospital with moderate injuries and is greeted by his old friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), who represents the airline’s pilots union. He tells Whip that he saved ninety-six out of one hundred and two people on board, losing two crew and four passengers, but a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) official informs him Trina was among those killed, thrown against the wall in the landing before she could regain her seat.

In the morning, his friend and drug dealer, Harling Mays (John Goodman), picks him up and sneaks him away from the hospital. Whip drives to his late father’s farm and dumps out all his alcohol and drugs. When he meets Charlie and attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), they explain that the NTSB performed a drug test while he was unconscious showing that Whip was intoxicated during the flight. The results could send him to prison on alcohol, drug, and manslaughter charges. Hugh promises to get the toxicology report voided on technical grounds, but Whip leaves in a fury.

Whip attends Trina’s funeral, where he encounters Margaret. Whip persuades her to tell the NTSB that he was sober on the day of the crash. He then learns via the news that co-pilot Ken Evans has come out of his induced coma, though remains severely injured. He goes to visit him. Evan tells Whip that both his legs and pelvis are crushed, and he has little-to-no chance of walking unaided and no chance of ever flying a plane again. Whip is sympathetic towards Evans’ injuries. Evans explains how he knew Whip was drunk, that he could smell the gin and vodka on Whip; however, Evans believes all people were put on Earth for a reason, and since Whip’s hasn’t come as yet, Evans will not tell the NTSB about Whip being drunk.

The next day Whip finds the media outside his farm’s gate and drives drunk to the home of his ex-wife and son, who compel him to leave. In leaving his ex-wife’s home, he is mobbed by the press, and does not answer questions well. Whip flees to Charlie’s home and begs to stay with Charlie’s family, vowing not to drink again before the NTSB hearing, a promise he manages to keep. The night before the hearing, Whip is moved into a guarded hotel room to ensure he does not get drunk. His minibar has only nonalcoholic beverages, but when he finds the door to the adjacent room unlocked, Whip discovers it has a full minibar.

Charlie and Hugh find him the next morning, passed out, and heavily intoxicated. They call Harling, who revives him with cocaine for the hearing. At the hearing, Ellen Block (Melissa Leo), the lead NTSB investigator, explains that a damaged elevator assembly jackscrew was the primary cause of the crash. She commends Whip on his valor and skill, explaining that no other pilots were able to land the plane in simulations of the crash.

Then she reveals that two empty vodka bottles were found in the trash of the plane, but none were served to the passengers. Only one of the crew’s toxicology reports was positive for alcohol, although one was excluded. Since Katerina’s report was positive for alcohol, Block asks Whip if he believes that she drank it. Rather than lie and permanently taint Trina’s good name, Whip admits that he drank it, that he flew intoxicated, and that he is intoxicated at that moment.

Thirteen months later, an imprisoned Whip tells a support group of fellow inmates that he is glad to be sober and does not regret doing the right thing, because he finally feels “free”. He tells the support group he lost his piloting license, but not his faith in telling the truth. He has pictures of family and friends on the wall of his cell, along with greeting cards congratulating him on being sober for a year. He is working to rebuild his relationship with his son, who visits to talk with him about a college application essay on “the most fascinating person that I’ve never met.” His son begins by asking, “Who are you?” Whip replies “That’s a good question.”

I like the courtroom scene best when Whip suddenly experienced a moral transformation. Block asked Whip a question: “Is it your opinion that Katerina Márquez drank those two bottles of vodka on the plane?” After much soul-searching Whip said: “God help me” and began to admit that he was an alcoholic, and it was he who drank those two bottles of vodka on the plane. Although he lost his piloting license and was imprisoned he did not regret telling the truth because the truth had set him free (Cf. John 8:32).

Drunkenness is just one of the works of the flesh that hinders us from inheriting the kingdom of God (Cf. Gal 5:19-21). Whip may be an excellent pilot but he was a slave to sin because he lacked self-control. Joy, peace and righteousness were clearly missing in his life. His wife and son left him because of his drunkenness, and he was living in a state of denial and fear. He had to tell lies after lies to cover up the truth.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Hence, we should stand firm and do not let ourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Cf. Gal 5:1). Those who receive the Spirit experience a moral transformation by the directive power of the Spirit (Cf. Gal 5:16-18). If there is no evidence of moral transformation, then there is no basis for claiming the presence of the Spirit, and hence no basis for claiming justification by faith. And if we do not experience justification by faith, then of course we will not inherit the kingdom of God which is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Cf. Rom 14:17). So let us walk by the Spirit and bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Cf. Gal 5:22-23) by the grace of God to His glory.

Here is the courtroom scene on YouTube:


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