Air Force Major John Paul Stapp did not lead a charmed life. His notoriety for setting land speed records evokes more pity than praise. He could serve as the patron saint of Pessimists Anonymous, and he has Capt. Edward A. Murphy to blame.
The year was 1949. The location was Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California. The Air Force, in testing the effects of G-force on the human body, prepared a high-powered rocket-sled to propel its rider faster than man had ever traveled—621 miles per hour.
Speeding was the easy part; stopping was the tricky part. The sled, with Maj. Stapp on board, would be stopped in 1.4 seconds—the equivalent of hitting a reinforced brick wall at lightning speed. The test was designed to determine the deceleration tolerance of the human body. To monitor the effects, Stapp wore a specially designed body harness containing 16 delicate sensors that would track his near-death experiment. The sensors were the brainchild of Capt. Murphy.
Stapp was belted into the harness carefully then lowered into the sled. Within moments, the rocket was launched; in fewer than five seconds, the new land speed record was achieved. Then, WHAM! Everything stopped on a dime, causing Stapp’s 160-pound body to simulate 3 tons of weight. His ears met in front of his face. Blood leaked out his nose and ears. His eyes shed blood instead of tears.
Quickly the rescue team retrieved his Jell-Oed body from the sled. Struggling to speak, Stapp’s first words were, “Sensors! What do the sensors read?”
To everyone’s shock, they read zero. All 16 sensors had failed to register.
Immediately, Capt. Murphy was summoned to explain the colossal technical failure. One look and he knew the problem instantly. Each sensor had been installed backward, rendering Stapp’s effort worthless.
Murphy was livid! Turning to his installers he yelled, “If there are two or more ways to do something and one of those ways results in catastrophe, then someone will do it!”
Thus, Murphy’s Law was born.
Through the years, this infamous law has metamorphosed into a multiplicity of corollaries and addendums, each with a sampling of truth for every conceivable situation, including pastoring. For example:
• Clearly delivered theological sermons will produce multiple heretical interpretations.
• Those who know the least always will know it the loudest.
• If the weather is bad, church attendance will be bad. If the weather is good, church attendance will still be bad. If there’s a short supply of bulletins, church attendance will exceed all expectations.
• Padded pews will neutralize long sermons, but only a nap can increase tolerance of a boring sermon.
• A mediocre preacher is always at his best.
Murphy’s Law may be a relatively young idea, but the principle dates back thousands of years. God’s people are no strangers to Murphy.
Gideon asked, “If the Lord is with us then why are we having all this trouble?” He probably was thinking, “Lord, if there are two possible outcomes, why do You always choose the least desirable one?”
Isaiah asked, “Why have we fasted and humbled ourselves, yet God has not noticed?” He probably wanted to say, “If there are two speeds in God’s gearbox, why does He shift to the slower one for divine rescue?”
As Moses surveyed the obstinate people he was leading, he asked God, “Why have You been so hard on me?” His real question may have been, “If cream rises to the top, why do I see so much scum?”
There is good news for all of us who suffer from Murphy-itus. When Jesus said, “I will build My church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it,” He was including all forms of Murphy’s laws in the mix.
Ministry is challenging work, but it’s not hopeless. The demands are high, but not insurmountable. We may get knocked down, but we’ll never get knocked out completely. Remember God’s promise: “Greater is He that is in you…” than Murphy and all his laws combined.
So, don’t give up!