The Faith That Kills You?
Austrian born in 1879, Franz Reichelt ended up in France. He died in 1912.
He was a tailor, a designer, and an inventor. And he had a vision. He was intent on helping aviators survive large falls should they be forced from their aircraft mid-flight.
Franz was a parachuting pioneer and today is occasionally referred to as the ‘flying tailor.’ He designed the first prototype, it was not like what we know today, with no canopy above. It was a wearable parachute.
He worked on the design for years and, “initial experiments conducted with dummies dropped from the fifth floor of his apartment building had been successful, but he was unable to replicate those early successes with any of his subsequent designs.”
Finally, he developed a design he was convinced would work, if only he could test it from a higher platform. “Reichelt repeatedly petitioned the Parisian Prefecture of Police for permission to conduct a test from the Eiffel Tower. He finally received permission in 1912…” Now, finally, he could throw a test dummy from a high enough platform to prove the parachute suit a success.
When the day arrived, he was ready. Convinced in his design, he invited the press with their new black and white moving picture cameras to witness the experiment. You can actually watch it online.
He climbed the tower to the first platform, which had been approved for his experiment; 187 feet from the earth. And, with life-or-death confidence, with absolute conviction, with measurable faith, 187 feet of it, instead of putting the parachute on the dummy, and ignoring the attempts to dissuade him, he put it on himself.
And He jumped.
It’s the first recorded death on film.
It’s grainy black and white images of a man jumping off of the Eiffel Tower to his death. It’s horrifying.
It’s also fascinating. Not his death, his faith.
The measure of his conviction is terrifying and absolutely devastating.
Faith is a crazy thing; if it’s misplaced, it can kill you. And when it comes to misplaced faith, the greater the measure, the great the devastation. And not just to the faithful.
I am fascinated by Franz; he was a pioneer with a vision of what could be possible and believed he was the man to prove it. He had measurable faith and acted upon it.
He was wrong.
His faith was misplaced. Another way to ‘say it,’ he was delusional.
And what’s crazy is, he could have easily learned of his delusions. He had a test dummy, after all. But I think Franz had a perspective on faith that many Christians share today; that somehow the size of the act of faith determines the success of the outcome.
And I know this delusional perspective on faith; the bold ego-centric leaps one takes in order to prove himself right and therefore significant.
I have a good deal of broken experiences because of that ego-driven outcome-based definition of faith. There have been times I’ve hurt those closest to me with my measurable convictions.
Like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, in faith, I’ve foolishly swung my sword believing the ends justified the means, thus proving my faith misplaced, false, destructive.
At 47, I’m learning that the size of my faith isn’t what’s important, it’s the purity of my revelation, it’s my conviction that sacrificial love, Jesus’ love, is what’s true.
Franz’s faith was measurable, substantial. Like Peter swinging a sword, Franz put all his metaphorical eggs in his faith basket. And he got it devastatingly wrong. You can put a whole lot of faith in a flawed belief and it will not serve you.
While faith can be witnessed in the boldness of a jump, it’s proved true or false by what’s on the jumper’s back; more to the point, it’s proved powerful and miraculous based on where the faith has been placed. And if it’s well placed, in sacrificial love, we really don’t need much of it, a mustard seed will do.
That’s because faith is about trust and expressed and revealed by those who know God’s love, forgiveness, grace, affection, intimacy, union…
Adapted from a chapter on the nature of measureless love.
Quotes pulled from Wikipedia.org