Lessons from the Titanic
by John Meakin
“She was the largest and most luxurious ship afloat. On her maiden voyage, she epitomized the leading edge of the technology of the time, inspiring awe and wonder. With her 16 watertight compartments, she was thought to be unsinkable; in fact, when one of her deckhands was asked at the beginning of the voyage whether she really was unsinkable, he replied, “God Himself could not sink this ship.”
The Titanic is perhaps the world’s best-known ship because of the tragedy that befell her. The loss of this great liner has long since passed into legend. But perhaps the most tragic part of the saga is that it didn’t have to happen.
The story of the Titanic is moving and harrowing, and presents an important spiritual lesson for our day.
Technologically advanced though she was, the capacity of the Titanic‘s lifeboats was only 1,178, while the ship was built to carry 3,000 passengers and crew. This is part of the macabre fascination people have with this story: There was simply no way any more than half the ship’s complement would survive should the unthinkable happen. So when the tragedy occurred, only the few survived. Many lifeboats were well short of their capacity-only 705 out of about 2,220 escaped to the safety of these craft.
In many ways the modern era is like the Titanic. Ours is a technologically advanced age, with a greater array of luxuries and conveniences than ever before. We are speeding forward into dark, uncharted waters at full throttle. Most people cannot believe this society could ever sink; the idea seems so remote that few allow the possibility into their thinking.
Yet according to your Bible this age will founder. This world-this age and society with all its wonders and marvels-will fall because it functions on the wrong foundation. It violates with apparent impunity God’s law based on the Ten Commandments. It resists the will of God and lurches inevitably toward a time of terrible trouble. When that moment of destiny arrives, like that icy mass that shattered human complacency, pride and arrogance 86 years ago, there will be a kind of lifeboat available, but by no means will it be accessible to all.
In Matthew 24 Jesus Christ was asked by His disciples when the end of the world (Greek aion, meaning “age”) would come and what signs would precede it. Christ’s answer focused on a time of great trouble, the likes of which the world has never seen, even to this day. It will be so bad that it will require the return of Jesus Christ to intervene and save mankind from destroying all human life. However, said Jesus, “for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (verse 22, emphasis added throughout).
In Revelation 3:10-11, in a passage connected with that same time, God promises to keep His people (the elect) “from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world.”
The apostle John later described a woman, representing the Church, who would be protected from the rampaging serpent, representing Satan the devil (Revelation 12:9, 14). Satan is prevented from hurting the woman, but is allowed to “make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (verse 17). God provides deliverance and protection for a few. Others will not enjoy that same protection or deliverance.
The basis of selection for this “lifeboat” is not so much physical-how much money you have, who you know, the way you appear on the outside-but the way you really are on the inside. This selection applies to all those called by God’s grace to have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, but who respond in an appropriate way. It applies to Christians who are determined to hold fast to God’s way of life.
An earlier lifeboat for humanity
Noah, called “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), lived thousands of years ago. In his time the world was in a sorry state, much like its condition in our time. The world was corrupt and evil. Mankind despised God’s laws, and God was angry. “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
In many ways the modern era is like the Titanic. We are speeding forward into dark, uncharted waters at full throttle. Most people cannot believe this society could ever sink
God so abhorred people’s behavior that He regretted creating humans (verse 6), and determined to destroy them and give society and civilization a fresh start.
So, quite literally, God instructed Noah to prepare a lifeboat so that, when their world sank beneath the waves, Noah and his family would be spared.
Many scoffed and ridiculed Noah as he built this massive lifeboat. But they quit laughing when the rain came and the waters began to rise. Like the helpless victims on the Titanic, they were trapped in the waters with nowhere to go. They all drowned.
Jesus Christ tells us that just before His return, at the end of this age, conditions will be strikingly similar to the state of the world in Noah’s time (Matthew 24:36-42). When the Titanic that is human society goes down, God will have a lifeboat of sorts planned out and available.
Sad to say, men and women everywhere will be unaware that anything is really wrong. Just as the ship’s band continued to play as the Titanic took on icy Atlantic water through the mortal wound in its side, society today continues its slide toward disaster, blissfully ignoring the danger all around.
The lesson of Lot and Sodom
After the flood came a time when God was again so repulsed by evil that He intervened to destroy sin and its effects. In the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, sexual perversion was rampant (Genesis 19:1-13), aided and abetted by pride, arrogance, prosperity and idleness (Ezekiel 16:49-50).
Warned by angels of the coming destruction of Sodom, righteous Lot tried to alert his immediate family so they could escape. He was rebuffed: “But to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking” (Genesis 19:14). The joke, however, was on them. Fire rained on and destroyed both cities, which have since become a byword for sin and its consequences. “And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt” (verse 29). Only Lot and his daughters escaped.
The examples of Noah and Lot are linked together as profound lessons for our day (2 Peter 2:4-8). Whether we recognize it or not, our world is like that of Noah and Lot. Wickedness and disregard for God and His ways are almost universal. Many of our cities and towns are morally no more than festering cesspools, not unlike Sodom.
God will not forever turn a blind eye to the ever-increasing corruption around us. Nor will He abandon those whose outcry against society’s sins rises to His ears. A day of reckoning for sin approaches. A time of deliverance for the righteous beckons.
If God punished sinners and delivered the righteous in the time of Noah and Lot, then we can be assured that for our time also “the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (verses 9-10). God delivered righteous Noah and Lot. He will do the same for the godly in our day-those who resist the prevailing, pervasive sins that characterize this age.
A world caught unaware
Noah and Lot are again mentioned in the same context in Luke 17:26-37, where Christ describes conditions at the end of the age. The timing of the events that lead up to His return will catch most people unaware. In the time of Noah and Lot, in spite of these two men’s warnings, people continued in their normal routines until disaster suddenly struck. So will it be, said Jesus, in the day of His return to earth.
In spite of warnings from God’s servants, those who do not heed will face a time of supreme trouble, without God’s protection and promise of deliverance. Verses 34-37 describe how some will be miraculously spared, delivered from the calamity about to envelop the world. Truly God knows how to deliver the righteous from a time of trouble.
This passage illustrates the tendency of human nature to assume that the longer something has been going on the longer it will continue to go on. The Bible, however, shows the danger inherent in that assumption. The ancient Israelites expressed these thoughts in proverbs and sayings of their day. “The days are prolonged, and every vision fails,” said one (Ezekiel 12:22). “The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off,” said another (verse 27). In both cases God makes it clear that His word will be done, and judgment for sin is certain.
Did people react the same way to the preaching of Noah and Lot? Apparently they assumed that “every vision fails” or that Noah or Lot prophesied “of times far off.” They didn’t realize that the vision of Noah and Lot pertained to their own eras.
A time of reckoning
As a society, we seem to think we can get away with almost any despicable act without facing the consequences. In effect we proclaim, “God Himself could not sink this ship!” As the apostle Paul bluntly put it, “There is no fear of God . . .” (Romans 3:18).
One of Britain’s favorite patriotic songs proclaims, “Rule Britannia . . . Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.” But the continued existence of all nations is actually determined by the goodness and grace of God. No nation is unsinkable, and one day we may well learn that at great cost.
Just as the ship’s band continued to play as the Titanic took on icy Atlantic water through the mortal wound in its side, society today continues its slide toward disaster, blissfully ignoring the danger all around.
Most people go along with the crowd, participating in and coexisting with sin while thinking little of it. But God is looking for those who stand out from the crowd and resist evil. He looks for courageous, concerned men and women “who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done” in society around us (Ezekiel 9:4), whose conscience, morals and values are in tune with His. He will hear their anguished outcry, just as He heard Lot and Noah.
In a compelling prophecy for the time immediately preceding the return of Christ, Malachi discusses the end of this age. A time is coming, he says, when the unthinkable will happen. Just as the supposedly unsinkable Titanic met disaster, so will civilization face unimaginable catastrophe. “‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘that will leave them neither root nor branch'” (Malachi 4:1).
A lifeboat is available
At this prophesied time, the returning Christ will intervene and provide a lifeboat of sorts for some. The way of life we lead will determine whether we will be on that lifeboat or not.
Who will be spared at that time? God, through Malachi, gives us several indications: those who have a godly fear, respecting and honoring God and His way of life (verse 2), and who “remember the Law of Moses, My servant” (verse 4).
God gave His laws to Moses for His redeemed people of Israel. That law is based on His Ten Commandments and was expanded through statutes and judgments. Jesus Christ Himself clarified that these laws are based on the two great spiritual principles of loving God and fellowman (Matthew 22:37-40). The law is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12), and is a reflection of God’s unchanging character, which is based in love (1 John 4:8, 16).
God’s Church today is, spiritually, a continuation of that physical nation and is now “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), God’s new “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) and the true children of the promise (Romans 9:8). These believers are expected to uphold the standards and pattern of behavior God revealed to ancient Israel through His laws, which are relevant and applicable to all humanity.
The burgeoning sins of our increasingly lawless societies will exact their inevitable penalties. Like ancient Israel, many people don’t wish to be told of their sins and defiance of the laws of God. Their attitude is expressed in Isaiah 30:9-10: “. . . This is a rebellious people . . . who will not hear the law of the LORD; who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits.'”
Because most people increasingly despise God’s ways, viewing them as irrelevant to their way of life, God will intervene. Like the proverbial bulge in the wall that has been there so long that it has come to be ignored, its “breaking comes suddenly, in an instant . . .” (verses 12-14).
Don’t go down with the ship
We don’t have to be like the people described in these scriptures. We know the ship is going down. The signs are all around us. The wall is bulging. The cracks are starting to appear.
Little can be done about the massive problems facing mankind. Life continues pretty much as usual, with occasional exciting technological advances to satiate and titillate us as we continue our collective moral degeneration. One day-as was the case for those in the days of Noah and Lot, and for the doomed passengers and crew of the Titanic-“life as usual” will be no more. The wall will come tumbling down.
Seeing that all these things are certain to happen if we do not change our ways, God asks of us a serious question: “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness . . .?” (2 Peter 3:11).
It bears thinking about, doesn’t it? Did God hold the key to survival at the time of Noah and Lot? Was the deckhand who said of the Titanic that even God couldn’t sink her proven wrong? Does God hold the key today?
Of course He does. And the lifeboat He is preparing has everything to do with your relationship to Him and the way of life you lead. God provides a lifeline, through Jesus Christ, to all who will fear and obey Him.
Let’s be clear. This age is like the Titanic. We naively assume society to be unsinkable. Yet it is destined to go down. But we don’t have to go down with it. By establishing a relationship with God and upholding the way of life He calls us to, we can locate a lifeboat.
When you look around at the glitter, glamour, splendor and wonders of our age, remember the Titanic, which no one believed would ever sink. Remember the haunting description of that mighty ship’s last moments: “The band played on . . . and the deck continued to tilt.” GN
Reprinted with permission by the publisher, United Church of God, an International Association. This article is not to be sold. It is a free educational service in the public interest. Copyright 1998 United Church of God.
Click here to find them on the World Wide Web at http://www.ucg.org
For a more detailed story of the Titanic, read “Titanic: The Unfinished Voyage” in the March/April 1998 issue of
The Good News.
(c) 1998 United Church of God, an International Association