On April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and was swallowed up in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Over 1,500 people perished as "the ship that not even God could sink" sank. Only about a third of the passengers lived to tell of the nightmare.
Although the death toll was staggering, the greater tragedy was that many more people could have been rescued. TheTitanic was certified to offer lifeboat space to 1,178 people. But of the twenty lifeboats lowered overboard, only a few were filled to capacity. Several were less than half full. For instance, the first lifeboat lowered, boat seven, had room for 65 people, yet just 28 boarded. Boat five left with 24 spaces unfilled. Lifeboat nine left with 26 out of 65 paces unfilled. Lifeboat one could accommodate 40 people but left the Titanic with only 12 people on board. In all, only 711 passengers and crew were rescued, while 40 percent of the total lifeboat spaces remained unfilled. Meanwhile, hundreds of people floated in the open water wearing life jackets near the twenty unfilled lifeboats. Only one of the vessels went back in search of other survivors. The rest (with room to spare) remained at a safe distance observing the horrific scene, comforting one another, and praising God they'd been spared.
In the ensuing months, as investigators sought to determine why so many lifeboat seats remained unfilled, they uncovered some startling misperceptions. First, some of the Titanic crewman mistakenly assumed that filling the lifeboats to their "sea capacity" would cause the boats to break in two during the lowering process. As a result of their excessive caution, many passengers were forced to plummet into the icy waters. Secondly, some of the passengers were reluctant to board the lifeboats because they didn't feel that there was an urgent need. After all, the ship was supposedly "unsinkable."
Lord of the Rings Illustration
Remember the character of Treebeard, a leader among the race of Ents, the shepherds of the forest in The Lord of the Rings? The Ents are described as a "deliberate" people, extremely slow to decide on a course of action. In reality, they are eager to avoid committing themselves in the great contest against the Dark Lord. "I am not altogether on anybody's side," Treebeard explains, "because nobody is altogether on my side." Up until the eleventh hour, the Ents hope to maintain a policy of strict neutrality. But their desire to be left alone—their refusal to choose Goodness—becomes untenable as the dark forces of Mordor gather against the inhabitants of Middle-earth:
"Of course, it is likely enough, my friends," Treebeard said slowly, "likely enough that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents. But if we stayed at home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway, sooner or later. That thought has long been growing in our hearts; and that is why we are marching now."
Wherever we are in our journey, whatever we believe, our earthly march will come to an end. Whether we meet Jesus at the moment of our death, or when he comes again—without disguise—we will face him …. As C. S. Lewis warned, "That will not be the time for choosing. It will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it or not."