Seven Spiritual Lessons From The Titanic--by Kimberly B. Southall

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On Sunday, April 14, 1912, the H.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank. Of the 2,207 people aboard, only 705 survived. There seems to be a bizarre fascination with the Titanic and its tragic fate which affects many people who normally don't show an interest in similar tragedies. What is it about the Titanic which generates such interest? Could it possibly be because there are so many valuable lessons to be learned from the Titanic? Let's look at just seven of the spiritual lessons we can learn from the Titanic.

Lesson #1: Unbelief Leads To Death

As amazing as it might sound, many passengers aboard the Titanic refused to get into the lifeboats, because they simply did not believe the ship was going to sink. It didn't matter that they were told that it was absolutely necessary for them to board the lifeboats. It was a frightening prospect for them to think of leaving the luxury of the bright and comfortable ship to get into a rowboat and be lowered 60 feet to the dark and freezing ocean below. But the bottom line was that they simply did not believe the Titanic would sink. After all, many had claimed it was "unsinkable." Had they believed the prediction of the ship's engineer and captain that the ship was, indeed, going to sink within two hours, many if not most would have been more than willing to take a seat in a lifeboat. As it was, some of the women were literally forced into the lifeboats, kicking and screaming! Because of the passengers' reluctance and the difficulty in getting them to enter the lifeboats, most of the boats were lowered with less than half of the people they were designed to carry, dooming many more to certain death in the cold waters of the Atlantic. For many, it was only as the bow (front) of the ship disappeared beneath the ocean that they realized the Titanic would, indeed, sink. But it was too late.

Likewise, just as those who remained aboard the Titanic because they didn't believe it would sink, there are many people who don't believe in God. Or, if they do believe in Him, then they don't believe in His Son, the plan of salvation, Heaven and hell, or that this world or their earthly lives will not last forever. From the Titanic, we can learn that unbelief will only lead to eternal death. Once we die the earthly death or once the trumpet sounds announcing the return of the Savior (whichever comes first), it will be too late for those who don't believe to change their minds. (See Hebrews 3:7-19 and Revelation 21:8)

Lesson #2: Heed Warnings Rather Than Reject Them

The Titanic received numerous warnings of ice from several ships. The Titanic received the first warnings of ice ahead on Friday, April 12, from several eastbound ships. On Sunday, April 14, she received no less than seven separate warnings of dangerous ice: 9:00 a.m. from the Caronia; 11:40 a.m. from the Noordam; 1:42 p.m. from the Baltic; 1:45 p.m. from the Amerika; 7:30 p.m. from the Californian; 9:30 p.m. from the Mesaba; and finally at 10:55 p.m. another warning from the Californian.

Yet, many of these warnings were not even delivered to Captain Smith, and overall, they were largely ignored as being of little importance. Amazingly, the last warning received from the Californian resulted in Jack Phillips, the wireless operator on the Titanic, to angrily wire back to the Californian, "Keep out! Shut up!," because he was busy trying to catch up on sending some frivolous messages for the passengers!

The Titanic struck that fateful iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on Sunday, April 14--just 45 minutes after Jack Phillips told the wireless operator on board the Californian to shut up! By 2:20 a.m. on Monday, April 15, 1912, the Titanic had sunk beneath the 28°F waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

How often do we ignore warnings provided for us in the scriptures? How often do we angrily resent others who point out these warnings to us so that we might be spared from eternal tragedy? From the Titanic we can learn to heed God's warnings in the Bible and to never hastily shut up someone who is trying to warn us of spiritual danger for which we might be headed. (See Hebrews 12:25-29)

Lesson #3: Recognize Those In Need

Amazingly enough, it has widely been established that there was a ship within viewing distance (approximately 10 miles) of the Titanic during the entire time she was sinking. Although the captain and several officers aboard the Californian deny it, much evidence points to that ship having every opportunity of knowing that the Titanic was in distress. And yet, those on board the Californian did absolutely nothing to help those aboard the Titanic!

The captain and other crew members aboard the Californian could see the lights of the Titanic and enough of the features of the ship to identify it as a steamer. One of the crew told the captain that the Titanic was fairly close. The crew also saw all eight of the white rockets fired into the air by the Titanic (a universal signal which always indicates a ship in distress). According to testimony at an official hearing following the disaster, one of the Californian's crew, Herbert Stone, even said, "A ship is not going to fire rockets at sea for nothing. Have a look at her now, Gibson. She seems to look queer now." To this, James Gibson replied, "She looks rather to have a big side out of the water." Those aboard the Californian continued to watch the Titanic on the horizon until they could no longer see its lights. This, of course, was because it had sunk.

How could those aboard the Californian fail to recognize that the ship they saw was in desperate need of assistance? Are we sometimes guilty of this sin of neglect? When we see the signs of someone in distress, do we care enough to get involved or do we wait to see what will happen-possibly until it's too late? From the inaction of the Californian, we can learn that our failure to help those in need can carry quite horrible consequences, indeed. (See Matthew 25:31-46)

Lesson #4: Be Prepared

Because those who fitted out the ship believed it was unsinkable due to its superior construction, they arrogantly only provided the Titanic with a total of 20 lifeboats which had a combined total capacity to hold 1,178 people. The Titanic had 2,207 people on board when it struck the iceberg. This is the main reason that Captain Smith gave the order for women and children to be loaded into the lifeboats first. He knew that not everyone would have the opportunity to get into a lifeboat. Not only was the lack of sufficient lifeboats on the Titanic evidence of their being woefully unprepared, but there was even more devastation to follow because of their unreadiness to face disaster. For even though the lifeboats could have seated 1,178 of the passengers, only 705 were loaded into them! Do the math . . . 473 more people perished that fateful night who would not have had to-all because those assigned to load the lifeboats had never practiced it before and it was done in chaotic fashion.

We can certainly learn a very important lesson from the Titanic in this regard. No, most of us won't ever find ourselves facing the task of loading lifeboats on a sinking ship. However, we face unsaved souls nearly every day. Are we prepared to help guide them into The Lifeboat-Jesus Christ? Do we know the scriptures well enough to correctly answer their questions and concerns? Or are we often caught off-guard and find ourselves in chaos in such situations? We must always be prepared with the Word of God to save souls! (See 2 Timothy 4:2)

Lesson #5: Help Those In Need and Don't Let Anyone Discourage You

In the preceding section, we learned that most of the lifeboats had room for many more people in them. This leads to the question, "Why didn't those in the lifeboats go back to rescue the drowning people in the water?" There were mainly two reasons given by those in the boats who refused to go back for those drowning: (1) There were so many in the water that they feared too many would swamp the boats and drown them all; and (2) They feared that, when the ship finally sank, it would create such a suction that if the lifeboats were too close, they would be pulled underneath the ocean, too.

Ruth Dodge, a survivor in Lifeboat Number 5, thought they should rescue people in the water but was overruled by others in the boat. She later switched to Lifeboat Number 7, because she was so upset with them. In Lifeboat Number 8, three women and Seaman Thomas Jones wanted to return for those drowning, but were overruled by the others. To this extreme selfishness, Jones said, "Ladies, if any of us are saved, remember I wanted to go back. I would rather drown with them than leave them." In Lifeboat Number 6, Quartermaster Robert Hitchens refused to go back to rescue people, saying they would only find "stiffs." In addition, he selfishly said, "It is our lives now, not theirs." Once the Carpathia arrived to rescue the survivors in the lifeboats, Hitchens claimed it wasn't there for them but to pick up dead bodies. It was at this point that Margaret Tobin Brown (more commonly known as "the unsinkable Molly Brown") dealt with the pessimistic and cruel Hitchens by threatening to throw him overboard if he interfered with their rowing toward the Carpathia.

While the people in the lifeboats may have thought they had good reasons, it was still a terribly cruel and selfish thing to sit by and listen to the moans of their husbands, fathers, brothers, and others drowning while they had extra room in their boats. As it turned out, the water was so cold and those in it were subject to such shock that their first worry of the boats being swamped was not likely to be a true concern, and the Titanic sank so slowly, that a few of those swimming very near it when it finally went under even swam to safety and survived-there wasn't any great suction as they had feared. So again, many in the water died due to the unfounded fears of those in the lifeboats. Of the 20 lifeboats, one had overturned when it was launched, two were filled beyond their capacity, and one more was only one person short of capacity. Only two lifeboats returned to rescue some in the water; as a result six more people lived. Those in the remaining 14 lifeboats could have tried to help, but chose not to.

Most of us won't likely be faced with a situation identical to this one, but if we compare our church buildings to those lifeboats, then we can see quite a comparison. We often get so comfortable within the church building (lifeboat) that we fear being pulled out of it or losing it if we try to help someone "undesirable." Do we fear dealing with those who are different than ourselves and therefore simply avoid preaching the gospel to those who need to hear it so desperately? Even worse, do we resent others who choose to preach the gospel to these people? Do we selfishly sit in the pew while souls perish eternally because we are afraid that we might injure ourselves by giving assistance to these people? From those in the 14 lifeboats who refused to return, we can learn to put our selfish fears aside and share our blessings with others. And regarding Hitchens in boat number 6, we can learn that Satan will use anything or anyone he can in order to discourage us. May we be like Molly Brown and not allow him to succeed. (See Luke 10:25-37 and Matthew 16:23)

Lesson #6: Never Despair or Give Up

One of the most difficult things for this author to understand about the later fate of two Titanic survivors, concerns Jack Thayer and Frederick Fleet. Having beat the odds and survived the sinking of the Titanic (less than one in three people survived), these two men later committed suicide. Jack Thayer committed suicide in 1945, apparently because his son had died in the war. Frederick Fleet committed suicide in 1965, apparently because he was depressed about his wife's death. How could these men who were fortunate enough to have survived the tragic sinking of the Titanic willingly give up their lives later? Just think of the many people who had drowned on that fateful night. Wouldn't they have loved to have the opportunity to continue living as these two men had? They surely would have traded places with them. And yet, these two men saw no reason to continue living years after surviving the tragedy.

We can see this giving up of life in a spiritual way, too. For once we have become Christians and have known salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commit spiritual suicide if we despair and "fall away." Just as with Jack and Frederick, Satan will surely try discouragement and despair in order to drag us away from God. We must be diligent and careful to never give up our salvation. (See 2 Corinthians 4)

Lesson #7: Remain Faithful in Service

There is one quite amazing and true story about Violet Jessop, a woman aboard the Titanic. First, it is necessary to tell a bit of history surrounding three of the ships owned by the White Star Line. Prior to the Titanic being constructed, Lord James Pirrie and J. Bruce Ismay came up with the plan to compete with another popular shipping company by building three extremely large and luxurious passenger ships. Each successive ship would be bigger and more luxurious than the previous one. The first of the three was the Olympic. It was launched seven months before the Titanic. The third ship, the Britannic, was launched on February 26, 1914, however with the outbreak of the first world war, it was a hospital ship rather than a luxury liner.

What does Violet Jessop have to do with all three ships? She was employed on all three. Now that does not sound so amazing . . . until you know what happened to all three ships while she was aboard. Violet was a stewardess aboard the Olympic on September 20, 1911, when it collided with the British Royal Navy cruiser Hawke. A 40-foot gash was torn in the side of the Olympic. Fortunately, it was patched and did not sink. Violet was also a stewardess aboard the Titanic when it struck the iceberg on April 14, 1912. She was safely loaded into a lifeboat and survived the tragic sinking. Violet was a nurse aboard the Britannic on November 21, 1916, when it was either torpedoed or hit a mine. It's fate was the same as that of the Titanic-it sank. Violet again found herself in a lifeboat. However, this time, her lifeboat was sucked into the Britannic's propellers. After jumping into the water, she hit her head on the bottom of a lifeboat. Fortunately though, someone pulled her into the safety of another lifeboat. Violet was not among the 30 to die that day.

From Violet, we can learn to remain faithful no matter what happens. Satan can cause many different catastrophes to befall us. However, we can trust in God and still keep living a Christian life, knowing that He is always with us. (See 1 Corinthians 15:58)

Copyright © 1999 Kimberly B. Southall. All rights reserved.

Most of the information concerning the Titanic and her sister ships was obtained from 882½ Amazing Answers To Your Questions About The Titanic by Hugh Brewster and Laurie Coulter, © 1998 The Madison Press Limited.