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The Titanic – 100 Years Later

The Titanic – 100 Years Later

“I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel.  Modern ship building has gone beyond that.”  Captain Smith, Commander of the Titanic.

“We place absolute confidence in the Titanic.  We believe that the boat is unsinkable.” Philip A. S. Franklin, Vice President of White Star Line

“God Himself cannot sink this ship.”  Titanic Deckhand

“Require immediate assistance.  Come at once. We have struck an iceberg.  Sinking. Women and children in boats, cannot last much longer.” Titanic

“1500 lives lost – Titanic Plunges Headlong to the Depths of the Sea.”  Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1912


This Sunday, April 15, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The largest moving object ever created to that date, it was a spectacle of luxury, opulence, and power, the triumph of man’s technological abilities. Yet, for all its glamor and current cinematic allure, it sadly was the Babel of the modern world, tempting, provoking and rejecting God while it pampered, extolled and glorified man.  While the pathos of its final moments has led to it being romanticized, we would be wise to carefully consider what God might have been providentially teaching through its demise. God is always at work in the lives of man, and every event either works for our condemnation or our justification.  The Titanic is no exception and accomplished both.

The Titanic was one of many arrogant expressions of man’s pride in the early twentieth century.  Considered unsinkable, it went down on its maiden voyage, taking 1500 lives and over eight million dollars of man’s investments with it.  Repeating the horrific scenario just twenty five years later, the “Uncrashable Hindenburg,” foolishly called the Titanic of the Sky, caught fire and was destroyed, killing 37 of its 95 passengers.  Not content with its technological failures, this same era saw man arrogantly proclaiming that humanity had moved beyond warfare, calling World War I the “war to end all wars.” Completing the trinity of pride, man then turned to the idol of money, borrowing huge amounts to invest in stocks and bonds. Economist Irving Fisher famously proclaimed, “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”  He would be proven wrong only one week later on October 29th, when the stock market crashed, plunging America into the Great Depression.  Man believed in himself, his wisdom, his goodness, his power, his intellect and his technology, and over and over again, God taught him that this leads to disaster.

God clearly warns, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” It is possible that the Titanic was God’s judgment to turn man away from this sin before it overtook him.  To think that God would have so harshly judged man for his pride is uncomfortable for our culture, which focuses so heavily on God’s love, tolerance and patience. But, perhaps we have forgotten that God is God alone and that we are not to put our trust in ourselves or the idols created by our own hands.  There were those on the Titanic who believed that man had offended God and that this was dangerous.  They were nervous.   Eva Hart, a Titanic survivor said, “My mother had a premonition from the very word ‘GO.’ She knew there was something to be afraid of and the only thing that she felt strongly about was that to say a ship was unsinkable was flying in the face of God. Those were her words.”

Consider just some of the improbable factors which cumulatively led to the Titanic’s destruction and heavy loss of life:

  • There was no wind to dash the waves at the base of the iceberg, identifying its presence,
  • The collision happened on a moonless night, making visualization of the iceberg extremely difficult.  In fact, it was reported that there had not been such a calm, moonless night for fifty years,
  • Although the number of icebergs in the North Atlantic from 1900-1912 had averaged 95, the spring of 1912 saw 395, radically increasing the potential of a collision,
  • The iceberg hit by the Titanic was the “blue” type, and reflected only the inky darkness of the sky, rendering it essentially invisible,
  • The ship’s binoculars were misplaced,
  • The Titanic held 20 lifeboats, sufficient for only 1/3 of its passengers because White Star management had been concerned that more boats would sully the aesthetic beauty of the ship,
  • Further complicating the situation, because no lifeboat drills had been done with the passengers and crew, everyone was confused about how the lifeboats worked.  The only scheduled life boat drill had been scheduled for April 14th, but had been inexplicably cancelled by Captain Smith,
  •  As the Titanic began to sink, distress signals were sent.  The closest ship, the Californian, was only 20 miles away but had shut down their radios for the night and never heard the distress calls.
  • Had the Titanic hit the iceberg a few seconds sooner or a few seconds later, it would likely have been damaged but not destroyed.
  • As crewman Lightoller later said, “Everything was against us.”

The probability of all of these factors coming together as they did suggests that this event was no accident.  It seems that God was making a point.

Of course, in the mercy of God, He also providentially acts for our justification and our sanctification.  There are many good ends which have come from the Titanic, including mandatory lifeboats for every passenger, wireless operators on duty 24 hours a day, improved watertight integrity, and the formation of an International Ice Patrol which even moves icebergs when necessary.  However, perhaps more importantly, God providentially used the Titanic to highlight the blessing of a Christian worldview. To a world which had begun to embrace Darwin’s survival of the fittest, feminism and secular humanism, the Titanic heralded gospel centered living as men laid down their lives, obeying the injunction, “Women and children first,” even when this crossed class barriers, and even when it meant certain death.

“On that floating microcosm of opulence, consumerism, and elitism, an amazing event transpired. Men of power and prestige sacrificed their lives for women and children of the lower class… On this flotilla of self-absorption, self-sacrifice became a prevailing virtue … and the powerful chose death that the powerless might receive life.  The Christian virtue of self-sacrifice for the well-being of others and the biblical imperative for men to lay down their lives for women and children were chosen instead of self-preservation… There is a titanic lesson to be learned from the Titanic. During a moment of crisis, a virtue that is alien to fallen humanity permeated the collective culture on the Titanic. Sacrifice prevailed …and a watching world was affected…”  (

Finally, the Titanic gives a picture of the call to salvation and to a refusal to be conformed to this world. Some of those who died on the Titanic could have survived had they been willing to get in a lifeboat.  Many lifeboats were launched half full because people didn’t really believe that the situation was really dangerous until it was too late.  For a time, the Titanic seemed warm, comfortable and trustworthy compared to the small, precarious and uncomfortable dinghies.  And so, rather than stepping out over the rails in faith, they chose to stay behind on this earth’s floating palace, and in so doing, lost their only hope for salvation and went down with the ship.

God’s providential lessons from the Titanic call today from the depths of the ocean and the winds of time.  Will we repeat her sin and reap her judgment? Are we still propping up the three drowned idols of technology, self-sufficiency and money?  We read the book of Judges and judge, confused at how the Israelites could endure God’s discipline time and time again only to return to doing what was right in their own eyes rather than honoring and obeying God.  But, are we any different? Have we learned the lessons of pride, humanism, godly manhood and faithful worship?  Our answer might just affect us as much as it affected them, as we blithely sail full speed ahead on the “RMS Titanic – One Hundred Years Later.”


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