"So you planning to go on a cruise sometime soon?" The guy checking me out at the drugstore pointed to the newspaper I was buying and asked me that with a wry smile. On the front page was the haunting picture of that capsized Italian cruise ship, overturned after going aground.
Here's a ship, larger than Titanic, eerily leaning into the sea. As of right now, 11 passengers are confirmed dead and more than 20 are still missing. Thousands of passengers are telling their stories of panic, mayhem and harrowing, uncoordinated escapes.
And the captain is under arrest. His responsibility for the tragedy will have to be sorted out in a court of law, but right now the charges are really disturbing. He's accused of causing the collision by negligent - even criminal - navigational decisions and of abandoning his sinking ship and desperate passengers. There are recordings of him openly defying officials' command to return to the ship. And there are reports that he had a history of disobeying orders.
A maritime trial lawyer commented that "the captain is the master of the vessel. Every crew member looks to the captain for guidance and leadership. He has to take care of life and property in that order...It's the captain's responsibility to know the waters and avoid coming close to any shoals and reefs." The cruise company says this tragedy was caused by "significant human error."
A lot has been lost because of a captain who made some terrible choices and ultimately steered his ship into the rocks.
What troubles me is that I see myself in that captain. Because - like all my fellow humans - I've wanted to be at the helm of my life, taking it where I've wanted it to go. But Captain Ron was never meant to captain this ship. It's not even my ship. I'm God's creation, made for His purposes, not mine. But I've hijacked the wheel and taken this ship where it was never meant to go. We all have. As the Bible says, "We have left God's path to follow our own" (Isaiah 53:6 - NLT).
Inevitably, people end up hurt and we end up in trouble. Oh, it was one thing when my sinful choices were largely just taking me down. But then I brought a wife on board, then children, then friends and co-workers. So now, when my "me-first" choices cause hurt and brokenness, I'm taking my passengers with me. All the selfishness, the anger, the dirty stuff, the pride, the wounding words, the stubborn self-will - too often they hurt the people we love most. And when we run the ship into a rock, they go down with us.
According to the Bible, we're all dangerously off course. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). And the destination is unavoidable: "Sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:15). Our being at the wheel has left us spiritually and relationally shipwrecked. Marriages hit the rocks because the wrong captain's at the helm. Children break our hearts because, in many cases, they're copying us - wrong captain. Friendships are broken, promises are broken, hearts are broken, lives are broken. Because someone incapable of being in command has taken over the ship.
But once again, as in so many tragedies, the story of a sinking cruise ship has a hope word in it. "Rescuers." There are Costa Concordia passengers alive today because some rescuer risked himself to save them.
Not only am I a captain who wrecks what he tries to run - but I'm also a man who's alive today because of a Rescuer. The early Christian missionary, Paul, wrote in the Bible, "I want to do what is good, but I don't. I don't want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway...who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 7:19, 24-25 - NLT).
Paul wrote that twenty centuries ago. But the same Man who rescued him from the wreckage sin caused is the One who rescued me. Jesus didn't risk His life to save me. He gave His life. I did the sinning; He did the dying, paying sin's death penalty that I deserved to pay. The day Captain Ron surrendered the wheel to Captain Jesus - the One who should have had it all along - was the day I started heading in the direction I was made for. And the people who sail with me - all the people I love - are finally safe.
I have in Jesus the Captain who knows exactly where we're going. He makes no mistakes. He knows about each rock and iceberg. And He will never - never - abandon me.