On the evening of 14th April 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg. For the subsequent two hours and forty minutes, everybody on board found themselves in mortal peril. Regardless of whether they were the richest man in first class or the youngest child in third class, they all faced the possibility of perishing in the icy waters of the Atlantic. And this was a fact that surprised everyone on board. Nobody believed that the ship was sinkable and that by stepping onto this boat they were in fact stepping into the path of death and calamity. But everyone sailing on the Titanic had done just that. It didn’t matter one iota whether they came aboard by the first class or the third class entrance, they were all aboard a doomed ship.
Furthermore, there was no distinction between ability, prowess and respectability that could save them. Each passenger was utterly dependent on the provision of lifeboats and on their rescue aboard the Carpathia. The crew of the Carpathia owed nothing to the passengers of the Titanic, and the passengers in their stricken state, had little to offer them. It was surely a mercy that the survivors found themselves on the safe decks of the boat. I doubt that many of the survivors felt pride in their position, they did not think, “how good I was to have rescued myself.” No, they probably were humbled by the thought that they were so close to death but they were alive.
Now, consider that the whole of humanity had found itself on the Titanic. Everyone, from the Pope to the lowest drug-addicted murderer, were headed for death. There was no escape and nothing that we could do, but hope for rescue. For this is the eternal fate of everyone on earth. The state of the human heart, the human condition, is such that we are all doomed to die. No one is exempt from this. Everyone finds equality in this fact, that as a human we are sinners, and as sinners we face the curse of death. You could try pointing fingers, “you got aboard this boat because of this sin!” or “you are facing death because you did this!” However, it’s a waste of time as how you found yourself in this predicament is of little importance. You are on the sinking ship, whatever the reason, and you need to get off.
Just as some of the passengers found themselves on lifeboats to be subsequently rescued by the Carpathia, as Christians, we too have found ourselves in the lifeboats of grace, confident that we are to be rescued by God. I say we found ourselves, because it was through very little of our own effort that we have been rescued. The passengers of the Titanic stepped over the side of the boat, and passively sat there while they were lowered into the water. Then, for two hours after the Titanic foundered and began her final descent to the bottom of the Atlantic, they just waited. Their rescue was completely out of their control. As it is with Christians. God owes us nothing and we have nothing to offer him. We are simply sat safely in a small wooden boat, confidently awaiting our rescue.
I’m sure many of those in the boats wondered whether they were going to be rescued. Surely doubts crept in. Also, many perished because they believed they had a better chance of survival on the big ship as opposed to the flimsy looking lifeboats. They did not have faith and assurance in the lifeboats. However, as Christians, we have faith and assurance that God is our only hope. Only God can save us. And just as it was with the survivors of the Titanic, there is nothing about us that makes us anymore deserving of saving. We are just the lucky ones, humbled and grateful that we have found our chance of rescue in God.
There are some harrowing facts about the Titanic disaster, if you will allow me to draw out this imperfect analogy further, I would like to comment on. Out of the eighteen lifeboats that managed to leave the Titanic with passengers, only two returned. Those of the other sixteen were too worried of being swamped by fellow passenger or dragged down by the suction caused by the sinking vessel. Additionally, the poorer passengers on the lower decks were prevented from reaching the lifeboats. The hatches and gates were locked, and many drowned in their cabins with no hope of survival.
It makes me wonder how many times the church has failed to go back to rescue those in need. I wonder how often our fear has prevented us from helping others to safety. Or how many times the very people who should be saying, “Here, I have found safety: follow me,” have instead said, “Because you are divorced, an unmarried mother, an AIDs victim, a homosexual, a drug addict, you stay below decks.” The very people that are called to offer hope, to point the way to rescue, have often been the ones that have been locking the hatches and throwing away the key. It breaks my heart to say this, but the wider church has been responsible for a lot of condemnation. Jesus told the religious leaders of his time, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” I fear the same sentence can be given to many in the church over the last two thousand years, and to too many today.
As a church, we need to remember that we too were headed for death and we need to get involved in the rescue efforts. For this is our purpose.
We need to be the ones saying, we are on the path to death and calamity. You may think that you are unsinkable, but it isn’t the case. Have hope, however, because I have found rescue. Follow me.