One hundred years ago today the RMS Titanic went down. Folks have been debating ever since: did God deliberately sink the Titanic or did He stand back and allow it to sink? Did He set out to break the pride and arrogance of man, or was His heart aching as He watched those folks chart their own course for disaster?
These questions came up at the supper table one evening, with four of us poor mortals trying to answer what only God can. But I’ve given it some thought and have formed my own opinion from reading the book of Jonah, an account that describes the nature of God and His feeling toward sinners.
Jonah 1:1-2 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah…saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.” But Jonah wasn’t willing and took an interesting detour through a “great fish” — as most of us have heard.
1:10 And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
2:1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”
If we read on, we learn that the Ninevites were wicked; God had every reason to rain fire and brimstone on them. Rather, through Jonah’s warning He offered them a chance to repent; He gave them forty days to mend their ways.
God tells Ezekiel in Chapter 33:11, “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9:
So Jonah got to Nineveh, a city that took three days to traverse on foot. He went a day’s journey into the city and began to proclaim the message God had given him: “In forty days God will destroy this city.” And the people of Nineveh began to listen.
For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
“Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” Ch 3:6-9
Ch 3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
Ch 3:10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
Then Jonah was upset with God. Was it because he had no use for the Ninevites and wanted to see them blown away, or because he felt God was making a fool of him? Here he’d told everyone that the city would be destroyed and now God was making a liar of him.
Ch 4:2 And he prayed… “O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled…for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.”
So God gave Jonah a little natural example of mercy in the form of a plant growing up to shade him. Through this gourd He tried to help Jonah see the light:
“Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” Ch 4:10-11
This last sentence is generally understood to mean children who aren’t old enough to discern right from left. So God had pity for the 600,000 children and babies – and even on the livestock that would have been destroyed if He’d carried out the terrible punishment.
There were children on board the Titanic, too. The passengers weren’t all just rich snobs undeserving of pity; there were 706 in third-class, a number of them orphans being sent across the ocean in “steerage.” The path from the third-class area to the deck was long and complicated and lifeboats were primarily for first-class passengers. Only 178 third-class passengers were saved.
According to one writer, when the Titanic started to flood with water a lot of these folks were on their knees praying. Did this not touch the compassionate heart of God? Did this merciful God of-great-kindness slap that iceberg against the ship? Did He heartlessly toss 1514 lives into the ocean just to show the world Who’s in charge?
Personally, I don’t read in the Bible that God is vindictive. I rather believe that, though it grieved Him deeply, He had to let the Titanic sink. This ship represented the effort of man to go it alone, the end result of man’s wisdom and folly. It was a tragedy rife with human error.
I believe He put this wondrous work of men to the test–in that sense He set the iceberg in the path of the Titanic. And the limited wisdom of man failed, as surely as all our efforts to guide ourselves will fail. If we go steaming full speed ahead without a Master Pilot guiding our ship, sooner or later we will crash into something we can’t handle.
Our trouble is that we are too smart. If we were stupid creatures, we wouldn’t get into half as many messes. But we’re smart enough to navigate ourselves into really deep water. That’s where we find out we’re not smart enough to get ourselves out again.
We need our Creator. We need Someone with greater wisdom than our own to chart a safe course for us. If the makers and owners of the Titanic had implored Divine help, if they had said publicly, “We’ve done the best we could to make this ship unsinkable, but God in His mercy will have to protect her,” I believe that ship never would have gone down. If we will do the same in our lives–implore Divine help–our ship will be unsinkable even if we don’t always make the best choices.
Books could be–and have been–written about the times God has come to the rescue of those who put their confidence in Him. Here’s just one small example:
My penpal was in her back yard one stormy day watching the wind lash the branches of the trees along the fence. Suddenly she had a strong feeling to get out of there, so she scooped up her little dog and rushed into the house. “A few minutes later,” she writes, “I heard a crash and when I looked out, one of the big trees had fallen right across the yard. If I’d been out there, I might have been killed or seriously injured.”
Did the captain of the Titanic have a niggling little feeling that maybe they should slow down when they entered the ice field? Then did he place his confidence in the ability of this ship to withstand whatever? Did it cross someone’s mind that maybe those watertight compartment doors should be closed, not left open? Was God there all the while trying to warn people, but they were so confident of their own invention that they brushed these thoughts aside?
Did God sink the Titanic? Or did His heart of compassion weep right along with the dying and the bereaved when the ship went down? Did He put forth His hand to strike the ship, or did He simply stand back and let the wisdom of man come to its natural conclusion?
When we get to Heaven we can ask Him.