We’re still learning some lessons from the Titanic’s tragic journey as we have recently commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s accident. Last post, we learned that the Titanic’s owner, Bruce Ismay, had received a telegram of icefields and large icebergs before the ship left port. Ismay disregarded the message, flirting with the truth, which had tragic consequences. We cannot blame the entirety of the disaster on Ismay, but we noted that we should learn from his mistake. Unlike Ismay, we cannot afford to flirt with truth. Flirting is uncommitted teasing. An uncommitted and casual attitude towards life-altering truth is dangerous and illogical. This attitude is also incompatible with the serious and devout call to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow him (Matt. 16:24). Jesus’ desire is that we would fully embrace this truth because it is truth that sets us free (John 8:32).
Onward and Full Speed Ahead
Bruce Ismay was not the only one aware of icefields before leaving port. The ship’s captain, Edward Smith, had been warned by passing ships earlier that day of icebergs. Smith discovered that many of the ships passing the North Atlantic would be dropping anchor for the night. Not only did Smith ignore these warnings, Smith slightly altered his route (10 miles South) and sped ahead through the night at 22 knots (just under the Titanic’s top speed). You might be thinking, “Gee, that’s just stupid! What was Smith thinking?”
We don’t know exactly why Smith acted as he did (as he died in the disaster), but we do know his behavior was beyond ignorance of the ice. Smith was an experienced captain and was well aware of the dangers before him. Gordon MacDonald hints at some possible reasons for Smith’s behavior: “Perhaps it had to do with his confidence in his own experience, in the perceived ‘unsinkability’ of this new ship, and the notoriety that might come to him if the Titanic, under his command, set a new trans-ocean speed record.” To sum it in one word: pride. Here you have an experienced captain commanding a tank of a ship with potential to set a trans-ocean speed record. Hubris was at the core of Smith’s decision-making. And while it was decided that Smith wasn’t solely reliable for the accident, one cannot dismiss his poor choices from it.
Like Smith, we are prone to arrogance and pride. In fact, you could say that the fall of man (Gen. 3:1-24) resulted from rebellion, an active manifestation of pride. As evidenced in Gen 3 and Edward Smith’s story, pride is lethal. Unfortunately, it’s also hard to detect. Scripture makes this clear in Proverbs 21:2 when it warns that, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes.” Pride also hides it’s consequences from its victim. Thankfully, Scripture again bears light on pride’s outcome: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
If we are to steer clear of such dangerous pride as believers, we need help to recognize its presence. Walking in honest, open, challenging community with others will allow us to see pride-laden blind spots. Apart from life-giving community, we will undoubtedly live as men and women who are right “in [our] own eyes.” After recognizing pride’s presence, we have to turn from it (repent) and cling to dependence on Jesus (surrender and obey). If pride drives us, there’s no telling where it will lead. As MacDonald observes of Smith’s life: “What if Edward Smith had said, speed records and reputations are here-today-gone-tomorrow, but the most important thing is to bring this ship, and its passengers, safely into port?” May we seek humility in all things and abide in Him daily, for apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15).
Why is pride so hard to let go of sometimes? Are there other ways to detect its presence that I didn’t mention? The Spirit of God, Scripture, etc.?