The world’s attention was rivetted on the recent tragic events that unfolded in the penultimate week of June – when an experimental submersible, the OceanGate Titan under the command of its inventor, undertook an expedition to the wreck of the Titanic. The wreck lies about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland at a depth of 12,500 ft. At that depth, the water pressure is 6000 lb. per square inch. This was obviously a high-risk endeavour made all the more concerning in that non-specialist guests were aboard the dive.
In a strange twist, the submersible came to grief with all occupants lost in exactly the same place that the Titanic came to its final rest on the seabed 111 years previously. Tragically, there are similarities between the sinking of the Titanic and the loss of the Titan. Warnings were ignored – the captain of the Titanic, Edward Smith, ignored the warnings about moving icebergs in the frigid waters and proceeded at full speed ahead. The commander of the Titan ignored warnings[i] about the safety of his craft and proceeded with the dive.
Warnings come to us all – not only in these exceptional circumstances, but also during times when all seems normal and safe. Some years ago, I was the rector of a seaside parish church in a suburb of Richards Bay, a port city on the east coast of South Africa. Between our suburb and the town centre was a lake that flowed into an estuary via a canal. A bridge over the canal carried the access road from our suburb into town. One summer, we experienced several days of torrential rain, which resulted in severe flooding. On a dark night, the rising waters washed part of the bridge away. Immediately after it had collapsed, the driver of a car with several occupants sped towards the damaged bridge and roaring floodwaters in the pitch dark, unaware of the danger. A pedestrian who happened to be at the side of the road and knew the bridge had gone tried to flag the driver down. The driver ignored the warning and sped to his death, carrying with him his unfortunate passengers.
Jeremiah and many of the prophets were sent to warn God’s people of the danger they were in – not only in a physical but also in a fundamentally spiritual sense. Jeremiah preached in the temple to the people and to the king and his counsellors, calling them to return to the Lord and to covenant loyalty. This had no effect. Then, at one point after his pleading, the Lord instructed Jeremiah three times not to pray or intercede for the people of Israel of his time. Why? They had passed the point of no return.
“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry of prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.”[ii]
Moreover, even when Jeremiah preached to them, the Lord said that they would not listen to him. Then the Lord outlines two consecutive faults of the people that would have a clear result.
“And you shall say to them, “This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline, truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.”
When a church abandons the word of God, then refuses calls to turn back or any type of discipline, the result is a loss of ability to discern the truth. The same process is outlined in Romans chapter 1 as an exchange; when people turn from honouring God, they become futile in their thinking… and, claiming to be wise they become fools. They exchange the truth for a lie and become debased in their thinking.[iii]
It should perhaps not surprise us then, when we see and hear of churches and their ministers yielded to the spirit of the age, descend ever deeper[iv] into the insanity and follies of the host culture. What other explanation is there for the progressive devolution from the sexual and identity confusion to the genital mutilation of children who imagine themselves as something ‘other’? This process has been correctly described as a culture and a church losing touch with reality. The problem is, just as icebergs are real and water pressure is real, God’s law and His design for humanity is real, and we must eventually face reality.
A point of no return.
On the great Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls plunges spectacularly over a 190 ft drop. Above the falls, the river wanders wide and placidly with no hint of any danger, except for a soft thundering sound and a rising mist. Several hundred meters upstream from the waterfall on the riverbank is a large sign that states simply, “Do not proceed past this point”. This warns swimmers and those in boats of the danger ahead. Simply put, if you proceed past that point the current is too strong to be resisted, and you will be carried over the falls to certain death.
Repentance, in Hebrew shuv, is to turn back, back to God and His Word; but, also importantly, it is to turn back before it is too late. We live in the bounds of space and time. God gives us time, but that time runs out, and there is no further chance to repent. For our part, we do not know the point at which God’s patience runs out.
Jeremiah encountered the final decision of God when he was told “not to pray for Israel” any longer as they had passed the point of no return. The writer to the Hebrews emphasises that Esau, too, found no chance to repent even though he sought it with tears[v]. Many other Scriptures illustrate the fact that the call to repent is urgent, and God’s patience does run out. There is a point of no return.
Many are praying for the coming General Synod of the Church of England, hoping that somehow the Church will respond to the many calls from the majority Anglican world and change course. Some are wondering if their prayers are already hitting an iron ceiling. Is the Titanic already doomed?
[i] “…the BBC has seen emails which show that warnings over the safety of the Titan sub were dismissed by the CEO.”
see video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXAyJWeI-f0
[ii] Jeremiah 7:16, see also Jeremiah 11:14 and 14:11.
[iii] Romans 1:21-28.
[v] Hebrews 12:17.