What underscored the shock and horror of the disaster, was not only the unprecedented peacetime loss of life, 1,514 souls, but also the perceived impossibility of the tragedy.
Before she departed on her maiden voyage, the press popularized the boast of Titanic’s operators, White Star Line, that the ship’s watertight compartments meant she could not sink.
Ok, to be fair, they only ever said Titanic was “practically unsinkable,” an oxymoronic litotes of the “slightly pregnant” variety.
But evidence bears witness that the opinion of the masses was one of resolute confidence in the ships unsinkability.
Allegedly, there was the quip of a deckhand who assured a nervous lady passenger as she was boarding, “Not even God could sink this ship.”
The Irish News had reported with some gleeful incredulity of the human ingenuity of the ship: “The Captain may, by simply moving an electric switch, instantly close the doors throughout, and make the vessel practically unsinkable.”
The Titanic’s pilot, Captain Edward J. Smith, was outspoken about his unshakeable faith in modern ship building. He famously said of a contemporary vessel, “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.”
Even the lifeboats were considered superfluous, so 44 of the original 64 were removed to reduce the unsightly cluttered look on deck, which may have offended the aesthetic sensibilities of the First Class passengers.
The belief in the Titanic’s invincibility was so entrenched that even on the morning of April 15th, as rumors of the event were beginning to arrive in America like flotsam of macabre gossip, the Vice-President of the White Star Line in New York declared categorically, “We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe that the boat is unsinkable.”
This is the danger we find ourselves I when our confidence and assurance is placed squarely on the self-constructed edifice of human ingenuity. And we omit an all-powerful, all-knowing God from the equation. April 15th, 1912 was by no means the first time humans had made this mistake. It reminds me of a time in the mid 600’s BC.
The impenetrable city of Nineveh captivated the psyche of the Assyrian masses as an emblem of human invincibility. As a super-power the nation had basked in its unmitigated conquests for centuries. Their kings passed the time with their death-defying lion hunts.
And as a fortified city, it was matchless. Serendipitously situated in a kink of the formidable River Tigris, Nineveh lay bordered on three sides by this natural moat. One could imagine a civil servant quipping that not even Yahweh could conquer this city.
When the Babylonians were commissioned by God’s providence to destroy the city, it seemed a fool’s errand. Until an unpredictable flood deftly discarded the very fortification that made the city unassailable. The very river they trusted in proved to be their undoing.
And lest anyone think it was mere coincidence that the flood’s timing intersected with God’s command, Nahum predicted the flood in Nahum 1:8 and Nahum 2:8. In numeric-mnemonic symmetry, it is Nahum 3:8 that reminds Nineveh that drowning in their own confidence was also the fate of another arrogant and “invincible” moated city, namely Thebes on the Nile.
Some blame God for disasters, using the insurance company’s convenient “Act of God” moniker.
But the truth is that pride comes before a fall. There is something inherent in pride that makes the fall more painful. But we live in a cursed world where bad things happen to…everybody. Rather than blame God, we should thank Him for reminders that this life is fragile but our souls can be safe from heights or depths, life or death (Rom 8:39).
Tsunamis, Titanic, Thebes, Nineveh, New Orleans, and countless other watery wastelands serve to remind us that our safety is soluble, but our Savior is a waterproof stronghold (Nahum 1:7).
Ps 93:4 Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!
Related article on John Harper, the Baptist pastor who preached on deck: “As a Dying Man to Dying Men”