What If... - May 2019

By P. Daniel Buford    The “what ifs” of life can be energizing or depressing. It just depends on the “what if.” 

One major church denomination conducts a biannual church conference. The president of the denomination gives the primary sermon, which is the highlight of the conference. But what if the president gets sick? The leadership of the denomination has a “what if” plan. A second minister is waiting in the wings, with a sermon prepared and ready to step to the pulpit and preach at a moment’s notice. In the history of the denomination the second sermon has never been needed, but the second man is always prepared, just in case of a “what if.” In fact, they printed several of these unneeded, undelivered, yet excellent sermons in a book entitled, Waiting in the Wings. No use wasting a good “what if” solution!

Sometimes it is good to have a back-up plan in case a “what if” happens. Dominic Tierney, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, presented two such notable occasions. The first concerned the Allies’ D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. The day before, General Dwight Eisenhower penned a message, folded it, and put it in his wallet. The message was his “what if” message. What if the D-Day invasion fails? The brief message:


Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.


The second notable “what if” involved the first manned space craft landing on the moon. Apollo 11, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard, landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. While landing on the moon was an amazing accomplishment, launching the lunar module from the moon and reconnecting with the orbiting command module was an exceptional challenge. If Aldrin and Armstrong failed, they would be stranded on the moon.

Bill Safire, speechwriter of then-President Richard Nixon, wrote a presidential statement in case the “what if” happened. 


In the Event of a Moon Disaster

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

PRIOR TO THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT: The president should telephone each of the widows-to-be.

AFTER THE PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT, at the point when NASA ends communications with the men: A clergyman should adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to “the deepest of the deep,” concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.


The good news is, those “what ifs” did not come to pass. However, some other “what ifs” still haunt me:

What if I had to receive the just punishment for my sins?

What if I had to pay for all of my mistakes?

What if there was no such thing as God’s amazing grace?

God assured Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). Paul assured the Romans, and the message is extended to us today, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). The certainty of God’s grace removes the haunting from my soul and replaces it with trust and heart-felt worship. Thank God for His amazing grace that satisfies my “what ifs.”