The ocean liner Titanic sank one April night almost 100 years ago, with a loss of about 1,500 lives–only 700 passengers survived the sinking. Few catastrophes have so engaged the human heart and mind as this disaster at sea. The Titanic remains very much alive in the public consciousness. There were many factors in the accident that led to the sinking and in the loss of so many lives. Many people are shocked at how few lifeboats were carried by the Titanic. However, the liner did carry enough lifeboats for 1,178 passengers. Why, then, did only 700 survive?
There are many factors, but it is generally agreed that the first few lifeboats launched carried far fewer than the maximum of 40 passengers; one carried only twelve. Passengers had been told that the ship was sinking. They were told to board the lifeboats. And still, the lifeboats were launched while only partially full. Why? Accounts seem to agree: the passengers were reluctant. The ship was not sinking especially rapidly at the outset, and the electricity remained on for most of that time.
On one side of the ship, the officer in charge of loading the lifeboats took literal the ruling that women and children were to board lifeboats first, and would not allow any men, other than the lifeboat crew, to board at all until all the women had boarded. Many women, reluctant to leave their husbands and the perceived safety of the ship, declined to board the seemingly riskier lifeboats. The designer of the Titanic, J. Bruce Ismay, was helping to load lifeboats and he stepped into a partially filled lifeboat when there were no other passengers willing to board. Some passengers died when they did not have to, because they refused to leave the comfort of where they were even when they had been told the risks of staying.
It’s easy to look back over history and wonder at this–but how often do we choose to stay where we are, doing what we’re doing, because taking the next step would be difficult, scary, or uncomfortable? The passengers of the Titanic were not the first in history to risk their lives through reluctance. If we turn to Genesis 19:12-16, we read about Lot and his family. “Then the men said to Lot, ‘Have you anyone else here? Son-in-law, your sons, your daughters, and whomever you have in the city—take them out of this place! For we will destroy this place, because the outcry against them has grown great before the face of the LORD, and the LORD has sent us to destroy it.’ So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters, and said, ‘Get up, get out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city!’ But to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking. When the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, ‘Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.’ And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.”
In Numbers 13 and 14, we read about the spies who were sent into Canaan. Ten of the spies carried a report that the inhabitants of the land were huge and unable to be fought. Only Caleb and Joshua encouraged the Israelites in the name of the Lord, saying, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30). The Israelites responded to the bad report by wailing that they should go back to Egypt. What they saw ahead seemed so risky to them that they would rather go back to open slavery than take the chance that was offered.
Most of the time, we are not called to make the type of decisions that Lot and Israel were called upon to make. Many of our choices are smaller. How do we react when we have to take a step into the future without knowing for sure what lies ahead? I know that I tend to panic at first. Within the past few years, I have been encouraged to begin school and to take a full-time job–both undertakings of great enterprise for me. It was really scary to take the first step, and it was really tempting to stay right where I was, doing what I knew how to do. How rich my life has been, though, because I eventually chose the scary option!
We moved this year and as the idea of the move came to light, I could imagine few things that made me as anxious as the idea of trying to pack everything up and head into new territory after we’d had so many years to form ties to one place. As I was sorting through the emotions involved, I was reminded of Abraham, who was told to leave his comfortable surroundings and go somewhere new and remote. Abraham’s response was to pick up his tents and go. I thought of Noah, who did what he was told to do even though it made him a laughingstock for a time. I thought of the disciples, who followed Christ even though most of the time they couldn’t fathom the depths of what He was doing. I thought of Paul, who spent the remainder of his life either on the road or in prison, preaching the Gospel because that was what God had told him to do.
So, what is the bottom line? Sometimes God’s calling will lead us to make drastic changes in our lives: where we live, what job we have, how we behave. If we are willing to risk stepping into the lifeboat of God’s will, we will be rewarded for our faithful attitude. If we choose not to act because we are afraid, we risk being a spiritual statistic along the lines of a Titanic passenger or an Israelite who thought Egypt was a much safer bet. Like Abraham, we must listen for the Lord’s voice and then be willing to step ahead in His direction.
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