"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." ‑ Proverbs 16:18
Since I first heard the story of the R.M.S. Titanic, I have been fascinated with the tale of the “unsinkable ship” that sunk. I have read countless books and watched almost every television program devoted to the fabled vessel. My interest took a significant if somewhat different turn when, in spring 1994, I re-read Walter Lord’s classic account of the ill-fated voyage, A Night To Remember. Though I had read the book several times, it was during this reading that I began to notice some interesting details I had never paid much attention to – details that seemed to have a prophetic twist to them. I jotted these points down thinking they might come in handy one day, perhaps for an article.
In December 1997, the blockbuster film, Titanic, was released to throngs of movie-goers and spent multiple weeks as the number one film in America. The 3 ½ hour epic depicted in vivid detail that unforgettable night in April 1912, and eventually went on to become the top box office hit of all time. The movie also rekindled global interest in the once-great ship that, sadly, lay rusting away at the bottom of the Atlantic. Not long after the film’s release, I finally wrote that article - Iceberg Dead Ahead: A Titanic Message from God - first published by God’s News Behind the News.
Though partly inspired by the success of the film, the main reason for the article was to share some of those peculiar details I had stumbled upon almost four years earlier and to see whether or not God was speaking to this generation through Titanic’s story and, yes, even the movie version. I was convinced then that He was, and I remain convinced that He is speaking through this fascinating story even today. That became clearer to me recently while I was watching yet another documentary of a recent Titanic expedition. For that reason, I decided to revisit this story and see if the updates Titanic explorers have provided in recent years have anything prophetic to say to us ten years after I first wrote of the sinking’s futuristic implications.
April 14, 1912 - 11:40 PM
In the crow's nest, lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee braced themselves for what looked to be a head‑on collision. For the thirty-seven seconds that followed Fleet's warning of “Iceberg, dead ahead!” the two held their breath as they watched the berg, glistening in the starlit night, coming closer and closer. At the last second, the great liner began to turn and looked as if she might clear the ice, but then - a gentle nudge. Later, witnesses said they heard a slight grinding noise. Others felt a small bump. Yet, no one, except those few in the lower decks, realized the severity of the situation in the initial moments of the collision. The ship had indeed struck the iceberg and was taking on water fast. Thus was the beginning of the end for R.M.S. Titanic - the greatest maritime disaster the world has yet to see.
After assessing the damage Mr. Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer, reported to Captain E.J. Smith that the Titanic was going down. Andrews explained that the Titanic could stay afloat with any two of her sixteen watertight compartments flooded. She could float with any three of her first five compartments flooded. She could even float with all of her first four compartments gone, but under no circumstances could she float with all of her first five compartments full. It seems that the very scenario required to doom the unsinkable Titanic had, in fact, happened. The newly developed electronic watertight doors were supposed to have prevented this from happening. Yet, all the doors were shut and it made no difference. The Titanic was sinking.
Stunned, Captain Smith ordered for the life boats to be uncovered. Sadly, there weren't enough boats for the more than two thousand passengers because it had been concluded they wouldn't be needed. Smith himself had remarked before leaving Southampton, “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Yet, here he was, commanding the biggest and safest ship ever built and the architect had just informed him that it could not stay afloat.
Perhaps he reminded himself of the five ice warnings he had received that very day. A sixth warning, one Smith may never have seen, had come from the S.S. Californian, a small ship sitting motionless in order to avoid floating ice – and just ten miles away. Her radio operator had tried to warn the Titanic as late as 11:00 P.M. but was told to “Shut up. I am busy” – busy sending unimportant missives to the mainland prompted by wealthy passengers enamored with the Marconi wireless system. The Californian was commanded by Captain Stanley Lord (no relation to the author of the aforementioned book). Just before midnight Lord decided to retire and suggested that the radio operator do the same. At 12:15 A.M., Californian's radio went silent for the night. Just a short distance over the horizon, Capt. Smith ordered Titanic's radio operator to send the distress signal. The time was 12:15 A.M.!
Through the night, Titanic's crew tried desperately to raise help. Legend has it that the first S.O.S. in history was signaled from the decks of the Titanic on this night. Tragically, no ship was close enough to be of any aid - except one. Most people believe that ship to have been the Californian and so, while the Titanic sank, Captain Lord, commander of the only ship who could save them, slept.
Just two hours later, R.M.S. Titanic sat perpendicular in the calm, icy waters of the north Atlantic. Survivor Jack Thayer observed “groups of the almost 1500 people still aboard (two-thirds of the ship’s passengers), clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly as the great after-part of the ship rose into the sky.” To Lady Duff Gordon, the ship against the starry sky resembled a finger pointing up to heaven. She also described the berg's collision with the ship “as though someone had drawn a giant finger all along the side of the boat.”
Perhaps at that final moment, Mrs. Albert Caldwell recalled a conversation she had with one of the deck hands before leaving Southampton. As Mrs. Caldwell watched the luggage being carried onboard, she asked one of the porters “Is this ship really non-sinkable?” “Yes lady,” he replied, “God himself could not sink this ship.” Yet, at 2:20 A.M. she watched in horror as the dark Atlantic waters closed over Titanic's stern, never to be seen again until seventy-four years later.
Why She Sank
In the past twenty years, deep sea research has made it possible to clear up some of the mysteries that have surrounded the sinking of the Titanic. While she sat lost on the ocean floor, experts deliberated over different aspects of the sinking: the extent of the damage inflicted by the iceberg; why, in spite of her ingenious design, she sank so fast, and if she broke up as she sank. The answer to that particular question was put to rest, in part at least, upon the discovery of the wreck in 1986. The Titanic did, indeed, break up before arriving at her final resting place, two miles beneath the surface. Two monstrous heaps of rusting steel and tons of debris of every size litter the ocean floor in an area a mile long. Recent findings further suggest that the break-up is, in fact, the key to obtaining answers to the other primary questions – the amount of damage sustained upon impact and the cause for the rapid sinking.
In 2007, experts met at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to analyze data obtained from recent voyages to the wreck and re-evaluate some of the theories for the Titanic’s quick and dramatic demise. The current evidence pinpoints where the Titanic actually hit the iceberg and suggests that the ship was far more seriously damaged in the collision than previously realized. It was formerly thought that the collision left a long gash in the ship's side below the waterline, causing it to fill until it broke its back and nose-dived to the seabed, the forward section ahead of the separating stern section. But upon examining the latest finds, experts now think that the ship rode up on the berg, with the result that a large section of its lower hull was ripped out. This was likely to have been the primary cause of the ship's breaking in two, rather than its filling with water. In other words, the ship sank because it broke up, rather than it broke up because it sank.
In the past it was thought that the Titanic took on water causing the stern to rise in the air with the subsequent weight strain causing the steel to fail. Instead, according to this newer evidence, as water was flooding compartments, the break up began much sooner and at the top of the ship, not at the keel. This collapse at the top is what actually put strain on the rest of the ship. So, rather than the water causing the stern to rise, the break up caused it to rise. As the break up accelerated, the bow ripped apart and plunged to the bottom, causing the stern to settle back down into the sea. Many survivors later claimed that, at this point, they thought the Titanic was righting itself. Unfortunately, they were wrong and the end came quickly. As a matter of fact, based on this latest evidence, the ship may have broken up and sunk more quickly than many people realized. In other words, even though they knew the ship was sinking, the 1500 still on board were taken completely by surprise as the ship began to break up. They thought they had enough time for rescuers to arrive.
Some have theorized that another contributing factor to the break up was brittle steel. Tests have suggested that the steel used to build Titanic contained microscopic imperfections that, when exposed to the subfreezing waters of the North Atlantic, caused the steel to fracture. If true, though the world hailed it as the greatest accomplishment of mankind to date, Titanic had an Achilles’ heel known only to God. The twenty-five thousand tons of steel assembled by fifteen thousand men over two years was destroyed in just a matter of minutes. All it took was the right kind of conditions – the perfect storm if you will - to expose the fatal weakness.
Finally, the destruction of Titanic seems to be absolute and complete. Analysis has concluded that micro-organisms are slowly, but surely, eating away at the ship’s rusty hull. In effect, the ship is turning to dust. Chances are, it will simply disintegrate before technology will allow for any large scale recovery. So much for the ship that God couldn't sink.
Close to a century has elapsed since the “unsinkable” liner went down and, through the years, Titanic has become an historical enigma forever linked to tragedy. Perhaps because of its fatal reputation, we forget that the White Star Line's proudest achievement was probably the greatest human accomplishment of her time, both technologically and culturally. Still, from the very moment her keel was laid, it seemed she was destined to disaster. The combination of human error, weather conditions and, perhaps, providence, all occurring in their proper place and order, provided an unalterable formula for disaster. It is reasonable to assume, then, that at least a few people of that era would have interpreted this catastrophe as a wake-up call from the Almighty.
The great steamer represented the very best the Gilded Age had to offer - abundance, extravagance, amusement, and perceived safety and security. It was unsinkable and impenetrable, the ultimate in human endeavor, the pinnacle of man's ingenuity. The builders, crew and passengers were indulging in an enormous materialistic binge, with no thought of the imminent danger, destruction and death just ahead. Just eat, drink and be merry. Ignoring numerous warnings, the Titanic raced on to her date with destiny.
What if they had heeded the warnings? Because they didn’t, I suggest that it was not the iceberg, necessarily, that sank her. What if they had opted to have adequate lifeboats for all her passengers and crew? They didn’t and, so, it was not the bone-chilling waters of the Atlantic that ultimately killed over fifteen hundred people. No, the cradle of this disaster was in the hearts of those who owned her, those who built her, those who commanded her and, yes, even those who traveled on her. The culprit was P-R-I-D-E!
Those who built and commanded the Titanic were so proud of her, in fact, that they couldn’t conceive of anything that could cause her demise. They never seriously considered that an iceberg – formed over decades, if not centuries before – would break away from an ice field and drift directly into their path. When the dreaded obstacle did materialize out of the night, what if the Titanic had not tried to maneuver around it? In other words, what if the Titanic had struck the berg head on? Experts explain that in this scenario, though she would have been crippled, the Titanic would have stayed afloat and could have been towed into Halifax to be repaired. Later, she could have returned to sea and served White Star for many years. Thus the final and tragic mistake in a long series of “what ifs” occurred when First Officer William Murdoch tried to get around the iceberg instead of meeting it head on.
We should not find this surprising. Anyone in his situation would have done the same, because that is our way. Human nature compels us to try and avoid the problems and obstacles that surface in our life. What we must realize is that, most often, our arrogance and foolhardiness prior to these dramatic encounters is what creates these problems in the first place. Bad choices, coupled with our resistance to God's instructions, place us on a collision course with disaster. Unfortunately sometimes, God must use these devastating obstacles to get our attention. Yet even then, they do not have to be fatal. If we could learn to deal with our self-induced problems head on, instead of trying to skirt around them, we would be much better off. As we have learned from Titanic, it is a dangerous thing to try and get around what God places in our path.
Better still - don’t ever let it come to that. Let us not be deceived into thinking that our achievements, wealth and prominence permit us to second-guess or defy outright the authority and principles of our Creator. Pride seduces us to think that our advancements – whether technological or philosophical – are capable of erasing the boundaries established by Scripture for living life. As we “evolve,” we develop the attitude that “God Himself couldn’t sink this ship.” This way of thinking, however, doesn’t testify of an evolving human condition but one that is devolving. In short, we aren’t getting smarter; we are getting dumber. Despite our abundance, we aren’t getting richer, but poorer and all because of P-R-I-D-E. Yet sadly, we have come to regard ourselves as so advanced that we don’t need God anymore. The situation reminds me of what my dad used to tell me when I was an “all-knowing” teenager – “Much learning has made you mad.”
You would think that mankind would have learned from the past and vowed never to repeat the same mistakes. You would think. Sooner or later, though, there comes a time when our rebellious attitude and lifestyle reaps the accursed bounty of our deeds. At large, humanity is at the cusp of a time unlike anything ever experienced since the days of Noah (a guy who built the largest ship of his day). Considering this, I am of the belief that, not only did Titanic’s disastrous tale indict the attitudes and actions of the Edwardian world, but it continues to speak to this wayward generation and, specifically, to modern America.
Like Titanic, the world and, in particular, our nation is steaming ahead with blind confidence, oblivious to the dangers ahead. Yes, we have received the warnings and at times they have caused us to hesitate for a moment (e.g. Sept. 11, 2001). However, the pundits remind us that we have sailed treacherous waters before – we’ll get through this tough time just like we always have, they say. Take no thought of eternal values or impending judgment for those who believe in such things are simply right-wing religious fanatics. Everything will bounce back. Ignore those silly warnings - full steam ahead! What if, though, there is an iceberg ahead?
Like those who piloted Titanic, our nation’s leaders – political, business and otherwise - know the potential for danger that lurks on the horizon. In fact, many times they use these threats as a means of getting elected or influencing markets. How many of them, however, have considered changing course when confronted by these problems? How many of them are determined to meet the obstacles head on as opposed to trying to skirt around them? Most importantly, how many of them have considered the warnings as being God’s way of getting our attention? Though it is easy to blame our leaders for the dangers we face, we need to remember that it wasn’t the designer or captain of the Titanic that told Mrs. Caldwell God couldn’t sink the ship, it was the lowly porter. Moreover, it was the two-thousand passengers who trusted and, by their actions, reinforced this sentiment; many of them refusing to board life boats even as the bow was slowly slipping under the sea. Therefore, I suggest that our more prominent citizens are merely a reflection of the attitudes and actions of the average American. Our collective mindset is that, in spite of the dangers we face, nothing could really cause us to founder. Though we may suffer difficulties, nothing could really cause us to go under. God would not allow it – would He?
If there is something that is able to get our attention quicker than anything else, I will suggest it is our pocketbook. In spite of the War on Terror, potential famine and other pressing issues, most Americans still see the economy – i.e. rising fuel prices and loss of revenues - as the number one issue that motivates them at the ballot box. I find this incredible and primarily for this reason: even though the Titanic was designed, built and manned by British, she was owned by an American – J.P. Morgan in fact. Let me put it this way: the Titanic – the ship that God couldn’t sink - is a picture of American economy and enterprise. So, I wonder - is there an iceberg ahead? If we have put the dollar ahead of Him, might God allow that dollar to disappear? Have our advancements and the amenities they spawned lured us into a false sense of security and contentment? If so, is that false security so entrenched in our national psyche that we cannot discern fantasy from reality? I should point out that many of those who perished on the Titanic did so because they could not bring themselves to leave the perceived safety and comfort of the great ship to get into a small, rickety lifeboat.
Recall there was a ship – the Californian - that could have responded quickly to Titanic’s distress signal. Ironically, it was the same ship that tried to warn the Titanic of the approaching ice but was told to “shut up.” Recall also the name of the ship's captain: L-O-R-D! Could this be coincidence? Is it also coincidental that Captain Lord was the only one who could have given the order to rush to Titanic’s rescue and save her passengers? As we know, he didn’t – he was asleep. Consider the following passages.
“Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they will not find me; because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD. They would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies. For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil." (Proverbs 1:24-33)
It is hard for some to believe that God would not intervene if and when our nation begins to break up. Think about it. In spite of our stirring renditions of “God bless America,” as a nation, we've effectively told God, “We don't need you.” When He has sent multiple warnings – whether natural, political or economic - we have essentially told Him to “Shut up. We’re busy.” So, when we begin to see the consequence of our actions, is it reasonable to conclude that God will not rescue us? Even so, we know that all who listen to and obey Him will be secure. As our Father, He provides care for His people in the midst of difficult circumstances. Though a remnant, were there not a number of survivors of the Titanic disaster? Not to be overlooked, though, is the fact that from the moment they stepped into the lifeboats, there lives changed forever.
Like the Titanic, our culture has inherent weaknesses – brittle steel if you will - that are now truly being exposed by current conditions. Primarily, I believe these to be our incessant drive to achieve wealth and power and our distorted view of liberty. Face it: even our poorest citizens are wealthy when compared to the standard of living in most third world countries, and yet, the rich in our nation seek more riches and more power. Unfortunately, this misguided inclination can be found even in our churches and fellowships. When it comes to our pursuit of “freedom,” many of our citizens think that living in a democratic society entitles us to whatever our heart desires – even if it defies laws established by the Creator. By the way, this way of thinking didn’t begin in the 20thcentury but was already evident not long after the birth of our nation. Not surprisingly, these moral deficiencies, coupled with our arrogant approach to the future, have created an environment by which we thinking nothing of sailing headlong at top throttle in spite of the warnings of what lies ahead. Thus, it seems that our faulty virtues are on the brink of being completely exposed by the “perfect storm” that is brewing in the world. Yet, like the Titanic, our weaknesses are not the result of our sinking; we are sinking because of our weaknesses.
Where the economy is concerned, I think most rational people understand that there are tough times ahead. The lingering uncertainty lies in this question: is the ship destined to sink beneath us or will someone come to our rescue in time? How one, standing on the sloping decks of the Titanic, resolved this question probably determined whether they lived or died. While we ponder this question, recall that experts now believe most of those who perished thought they had a lot more time and were probably taken by complete surprise when the sinking ship began to break apart.
Some Final Observations
That it was the Titanic that sunk, and in the Atlantic I might add, is itself a hint that this century-old event was no accident. Furthermore, these facts convince me that God is indeed speaking to this generation and, specifically, our nation at this time. Consider this: the Atlantic Ocean gets its name from Atlas, one of the Titans in Greek mythology. In fact, Atlas fought with the Titans against the deities of Mount Olympus – he was a rebel in other words. After their defeat, the Titans were banished to Tartarus (synonymous with Hades) by Zeus. Of course, the Titans are the inspiration for the name, “Titanic” – ironic wouldn’t you say? Here is what is really interesting though: Atlantis, the fabled utopia of antiquity, is also associated with the Atlantic and, in fact, supposedly disappeared under the ocean after a violent earthquake. For centuries, explorers and historians have tried to determine if there was such a place and, if so, where? Some of the places that are believed to be the ancient Atlantis are the isle of Crete, the Canary Islands, the Scandinavian Peninsula, and, believe it or not, America. Could it be?
Again, I know that it is hard to believe that America, at least as we have known it, may be living out her final days and, yet, who can deny that this country is facing unprecedented dangers with the promise of more to come? This would be bad enough, but to face these times while our society is consistently and energetically pursuing agendas that incite the ire of a holy God is indeed frightening. Therefore, it is my OPINION that American culture has already struck the proverbial iceberg and the initial damage was much more than we imagined. Those on the “lower decks” can easily discern that the ship is going down but are, in their own abilities, powerless to do anything about it. Those who are in servitude to the culture are committed to remain at their posts regardless of the outcome. Those at the top, intoxicated with their power and luxuries, are too stubborn and too proud to realize that the ship may actually be sinking beneath their feet. I’m sure that, whatever their station in life may be, many Americans feel that, in spite of the difficulties ahead, somehow, someway, something will change things for the better and life will go on just like it always has – we’ve got plenty of time. That is, apparently, what two-thirds of the passengers on R.M.S. Titanic thought too – but they’re all dead.
Earlier I mentioned that some of the witnesses noted that, as the bow broke away and plunged downward, the stern section settled back into the sea. Some thought, momentarily, that the ship was going to right itself. That hope was short-lived. With that in mind, allow me to make an observation. Obviously, America’s fascination with our pocket book dictates much of what the cultures thinks and does. That the future health of the economy is in question has many people troubled, some even terrified, about the security of their lifestyles. So what if the economic scenario in America plays out exactly as it did for the Titanic? In other words, most can see that the ship is struggling to stay afloat but most are not willing to accept that it may go under. What if something unexpected and quite dramatic happens that causes the ship to “break up” and carry many under with it before help arrives? After the initial shock of this steep downturn, what if the economic ship appeared to “right” itself inspiring people to think that the worst was over - only to see the bottom fall out? Am I making a prediction? No, it is just a thoughtful observation.
The finality of my message is that Titanic - the ship that God couldn't sink – sunk. Not only were human lives destroyed, but another icon in the long line of icons that man had built and dedicated to himself met its demise. Soon, the once great liner will be nothing more than dust. So in the final analysis, Titanic, like the Tower of Babel, is another grim reminder of what happens when we become so enamored with ourselves that we dare defy the judgment of a sovereign God. Therefore, let us heed the warnings. There is an iceberg dead ahead!