On the evening of April 15, 1912, Henry Sleeper Harper and his wife survived the sinking of the great ship Titanic in a way that was “so casual that it almost seemed miraculous.” It was a survival aided by Mr. Harper’s keen perception and sticking to his convictions.
Henry was fast asleep in his stateroom on that fateful night. Since boarding the ship in England, he had been kept in his room by a bout of tonsillitis. Around 11:40 pm ship’s time, Henry was awakened by a grinding sound far below deck. It wasn’t a loud crash. It was felt as much as it was heard. And to Henry, it brought back a stirring memory.
Henry was familiar with the sea from his youth. And several years earlier, he was aboard a ship that ran over a reef and sunk. The sound and feel of that experience had just repeated itself to Henry. When he awoke to the sound, he looked out the nearest port and saw, only a few feet away, an iceberg racing past his window. He knew the Titanic was going down.
Henry instructed his reluctant wife to get dressed. “Make sure you have your shoes and winter coat” he called. The couple made their way to the upper deck. Due to Henry’s sickness, they had to stop and rest at times. Along the way, there were many assurances from the crew and other passengers that all was well. The ship was in good shape. There was talk of maybe a two-hour delay getting to New York at the worst. Passengers were told to go back to bed.
But Henry and his wife did not go back to bed. They ignored the wishful assurances and continued on to where the lifeboats were stowed. There, they and a few dozen passengers waited patiently. Finally, a few crew members arrived and instructed the group into one of the boats. Despite many challenges brought on by the incompetence of the lifeboat crew, Mr. Harper survived the night and he and his wife and their boatload of passengers were rescued in the morning. (You can read more of Mr. Harper’s fascinating story of survival in Harper’s Weekly magazine, April 27, 1912 and reprinted in the book, Men at Sea, by Brandt Aymar, Crown Publishers Inc, New York, 1988.)
A few weeks ago, the world hit an iceberg. When I was awakened by the grinding sound, I looked out my “port” window. I did not see the cause of the sound, but I did see a gaping hole that not only engulfed China and northern Italy and New York City and the UK. But I saw India and Niger and Quito, Ecuador where bodies were lining the sidewalk outside the hospital with nowhere to take the dead. These places that lack sufficient healthcare resources are where the berg has cut the deepest.
I can’t think of another time in my life when the entire world has been under attack from the same enemy. The world really has hit an iceberg.
And none of us know what comes next. Will the world continue to “sink” under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic and economic meltdown? Or will the world bob right back up like a beach ball in a backyard swimming pool? Or will it come back as something other than the world as we knew it?
No matter what future route our world takes, there is still a rescue waiting for each of us. There is still a captain of the sea reaching out a hand of salvation; a hand that is more secure than any Titanic lifeboat. As I wrote last time, life in a pandemic – and after a pandemic – is found in Jesus.
We look with compassion over this broken world that seems to be falling apart by even more than just the coronavirus pandemic. But we do not look with fear. Whether in life or death, abundance or scarcity, sickness or in health, employed or unemployed; real resurrection life is found in Jesus. “Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die’ ” (Jn 11:25-26).