THE LEGACY OF THE TITANIC
“They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4). The tower of Babel was an example of man’s pride in his ability to build something great without dependence on God or recognition of frail, human limitations. So, in another work of human ingenuity, there is a spiritual lesson in the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic.
On April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage from England to New York City after striking an iceberg. Out of 2,218 passengers aboard, 1,513 perished in the icy north Atlantic waters 350 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. The maritime disaster sparked a Congressional investigation. The wreck site has been extensively filmed and photographed. Deep Ocean Expeditions Company takes tourists in a submersible to the site for $40,000. Over 5000 items have been retrieved from this massive tomb 2.5 miles beneath the ocean’s surface. The Maine Maritime Academy teaches an entire course on the sinking of the Titanic. The movie Titanic has been re-released in 3D.
In human history, there have been numerous natural disasters where thousands of people have died. Why is the human tragedy of the Titanic’s sinking still so mesmerizing?
The stunning loss of the Titanic on its first voyage is so stark in view of its luxurious opulence and technological advancement of that age. It took 3,000 men 3 years to construct it. It was 11 stories high and 882’ long, the largest ship of its time. It was a floating palace. Those in first class section enjoyed expensive crystal chandeliers, gold-plated light fixtures, fine wood paneling, million dollar oil paintings decorating the walls, a swimming pool, spa, Turkish bath, all with gourmet dining. Yet, some of the richest people in world, like John Jacob Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim, perished on the Titanic.
The chairman of the White Star Company, builder of the Titanic, said, “I cannot imagine any condition that would cause the ship to flounder. I cannot imagine any disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has come beyond that.” The double hull construction and water tight compartments were designed to keep the ship afloat, even if the hull was breached. Yet, for a lack of a pair of binoculars, the lookout did not see an iceberg in time to avert disaster. (The captain had only 37 seconds to divert the ship after warning to impact). Tests on the iron hull and rivets show a manufacturing defect led to the hull being more brittle than original specifications, so it was more easily ripped open upon impact. Also, there were lifeboats for only 2/3 of the passengers; during the chaos of evacuation, most of the lifeboats were not filled to capacity. One medical researcher said that a person being plunged in 31 degree water is like being stabbed by a 1,000 knives simultaneously, in which the body then freezes to death in a few minutes.
Yet, in the end, as the doomed shipped slipped beneath the waves of the Atlantic, the last song the Titanic’s band played was “Nearer My God to Thee.”
What spiritual lessons do we see in this historic calamity?
1. Human Pride. One survivor, a Mrs. Harris, said of the voyage: “We were out on a lark and revelry was the keynote…The comfort and luxury aboard were all that had been promised…And there were some people on board whose job it was to keep watch.” The famous quote of a Titanic crewman to a passenger was: “…even God himself could not sink this ship.” In spite of every preparation, the unsinkable Titanic succumbed to the ultimate disaster due to human frailty.
Man’s pride, an inflated overestimate of his intelligence and power, is his undoing. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18). It is the anti-God spirit that leads him away from his need for God. Just as God at the tower of Babel God judged mankind by confounding their language and scattering them, in order to check man’s sinful arrogance (Gen 11:6), so today “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Ja 4:6).
2. Human Mortality. Probably all who died on April 15, 1912 did not anticipate on April 14th that they would perish the next day. The rich and poor, the famous and obscure, all suffered and died together. “It is appointed once for man to die, and then comes the judgment” (Heb 9:27). Life is not about our pleasure and comfort, but preparing our character to meet God in that inevitable final interview.
3. Saving Faith in God. So, in the end, will all die and we are all accountable to God. We’re all on a voyage to eternity. Yet, God’s grace has provided a way for the salvation of sinners. “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb 11:7). It’s said, “The Titanic was built by experts but the ark was built by amateurs.” The ark was truly “unsinkable” because God’s grace blessed and saved Noah’s family who acted by obedient faith in their Creator.
Such faith today ultimately looks to the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, who in Him alone is the sure and safe way to heaven. “Jesus said…, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). The Lord’s church is “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ” (Col 1:2).
As we face our mortality, how near to God are you? Have you been baptized (immersed) into Christ for the remission of sins? “…The patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:20-21).
- W. Frank Walton