THERE ARE NO ATHEISTS ON A SINKING SHIP

In the early hours of the morning of April 15th 1912, calls of great distress were dispersed across the North Atlantic Ocean. Scarcely moments ago, the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic had struck a large, submerged iceberg, severely comprimising its hull.

Throughout the corridors of the vessel, stewards travelled door to door rousing sleeping passengers from their warm interior cabins and directing them to the ship’s bitterly-cold outer deck. As minutes quickly passed and the crew began preparing lifeboats, the severity and hopelessness of their situation became fully apparent to those on board.

Still, in spite of the tragedy that had so unexpectedly beset them, a melodious sound filled the chilling -2°C (28° F) air. That last noble act of the ship’s band has been told and retold countless times. George Orrell, bandmaster of the rescue ship, Carpathia, puts it this way:

“After Titanic struck the iceberg the band began to play bright music, dance music, comic songs – anything that would prevent the passengers from becoming panic-stricken…[however] various awe-stricken passengers began to think of the death that faced them and asked the bandmaster to play hymns. The one which appealed to all was ‘Nearer My God to Thee.” – George Orrell

As legend has it, in that time, in the midst of a hopeless situation, people from all walks of life banded together grasping at the hope of something more. Completely powerless, they turned their eyes upon a higher power. As the popular saying goes, there are no atheists on a sinking ship.

A HIGHER POWER

The aforementioned saying is believed to have been inspired by a similar quote made by US military chaplain William Thomas Cummings in 1942, namely that “there are no atheists in foxholes”. He argued that when placed in a position of extreme stress or fear, all people look towards, or hope for, a higher power to get them out of trouble (and there are therefore no atheists).

Regardless of its literal accuracy, the underlying message of Cummings’ aphorism rings true. A predictable tendency of humanity is that when we feel absolutely powerless we are drawn towards the hope of something beyond ourselves, something that we may not even believe in. Ultimately, by extension, the reverse of this is also true. That is, in times of contentment and prosperity, it is easy to feel as though we don’t “need God”.

OUR FRIVOLOUS PURSUIT OF CONTENTMENT

What is one thing we desire in life more than anything else? This question has captivated humanity since the dawn of time. Popular answers include money, freedom, time, peace, joy, love, fulfillment and success. However, the greatest longing of the human heart, one which underpins all others, is the desire to be happy, content with both one’s self and one’s life.

People search for this sense of “contentment” in all avenues of life. “If I can just get that next promotion at work, my dream car and family home. If I can just meet the right person, travel the world or achieve the fame and fortune I have always wanted. If I can just become fitter, stronger, more intelligent and more confident. Then I will be truly happy.” It is so natural for us to have a mental list of everything we have to be, to possess and to achieve before we can be completely content with our lives.

The sad reality, however, is that even after satisfying every requirement, our hearts are no fuller than when we started. Actor and comedian, Jim Carrey, had this to say on the topic:

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” – Jim Carrey

This view is echoed by countless modern and ancient minds. Renowned for his wisdom, King Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, offers the following comment:

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 1:14

PHYSICALLY RICH, SPIRITUALLY POOR

Today’s society, especially in the Western world, is richer, smarter, healthier and freer than ever before. How is it, then, that we have also reached record-breaking suicide and homicide rates and cases of mental illness such as anxiety and depression? How is it that, after satisfying every item on our list, the feeling of contentment we so desperately crave continues to elude us?

Once again, we turn to King Solomon for the answer:

“He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

The Bible claims that God has “set eternity in the human heart.” This life is not all that there is. To quote the rock band Switchfoot:

“We were meant to live for so much more.” – Meant to Live, Switchfoot, 2003

True contentment, the Bible states, cannot be attained from any earthly thing but by God alone. The good news is that this gift is freely offered to every single one of us.

MY EXPERIENCE

For many years, I considered myself a “Christian” and attended church. For many years, I tried to do and say all the right things. I was happy to go through the motions and acknowledge God as long as He didn’t get in the way of my own personal ambitions. I was happy to live my own life, aiming to attain happiness, satisfaction and contentment in my own way. However, nothing I ever did gave me the feeling I truly desired.

I am not claiming to be the victim of immense suffering because, compared to many others, I know I have barely scratched the surface. However, I am also no stranger to pain and sadness, a title I’m sure every single one of you reading this could claim.

For me, it was not until my ship was sinking that I asked God for the help He had always been longing to provide. For me, it took physical suffering to open my eyes to my spiritual starvation.

At a time in my life where I felt powerless, God replaced my turmoil with a very real sense of peace. He promises the same to everyone who asks for it in the book of Matthew:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

Realising that I couldn’t do anything in my own strength to get out of my situation, I turned my eyes towards a higher power. The result was not only an absence of physical sadness and pain but also a sense of happiness, satisfaction and contentment more powerful than anything I had ever experienced.

CONCLUSION

Reader, today you might feel like your ship is sinking and you have nowhere to turn. Alternatively, you might be someone who has been searching for that sense of happiness and contentment for a long time with nothing to show for it. If you want to experience a very real sense of happiness and peace, I encourage you to give God a chance.

For many of us, however, we are sailing from Southhampton to New York in clear skies and calm seas. We haven’t reached our iceberg yet. We haven’t sensed our spiritual starvation, but it’s there, looming beneath the surface.

Regardless of who you are, please don’t wait until your ship is sinking. Real happiness and contentment is available to you today from a very real God if you’ll only ask. What have you got to lose?

PRAYER

If you’ve decided you want to reach out to God but don’t know where to begin, you can start by saying the following prayer (or adapt it into your own words):

Dear God,

I’m sorry for trying to do things my own way. Today, I commit my life to carrying out Your plan.

Please help me to understand my purpose and my worth and empower me to realise my full potential.

Please give me the peace You have promised and the happiness and contentment that only You can provide.

In Jesus Name,

Amen.

Blaise Knew What He Was Talking About

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” – Blaise Pascal

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