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Trusting in Wealth for Security Is Always a Titanic Mistake: 4 Biblical Reflections

June 23, 2023

They called her “unsinkable.” Yet, on her maiden voyage, she sank. The Titanic was the largest ship of its time, and approximately 1,500 people perished when it hit an iceberg in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, making it one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history. For 111 years, the catastrophe has loomed large in Western imaginations, generating literary tributes, linguistic innovations, and now a niche tourism industry.

This week, another catastrophe occurred at nearly the same location, when a small submersible vessel named Titan imploded while travelling to view the wreck. Underwater American naval sensors detected the implosion on Sunday, although the source was not identified until later. After leading an international search-and-rescue operation that mobilized considerable resources, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered five major pieces of debris “consistent with a catastrophic implosion” on Thursday. All five people aboard — two crew members and three high-paying tourists — are presumed dead.

As American media reported on the unfolding catastrophe in real time, they discovered a recurring pattern of safety complaints involving the Titan craft and its parent company OceanGate (a name suggesting scandal, if ever any could). The vessel ignored safety regulations and skipped certifications. “At some point, safety just is pure waste,” OceanGate CEO and Titan pilot Stockton Rush said last year. “I think I can do this just as safely by breaking the rules.” He called the vessel “pretty much invulnerable” — before it became his watery grave this week.

For everyone involved, the incident was tragic, and I have no desire to disturb the privacy of their grief. However, by viewing these facts through the prism of biblical wisdom, we can gain wisdom ourselves. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7:4). With that, here are four biblical reflections on this tragedy:

1. Life Passes as Breath

None of the five people aboard the Titan expected to die that day, yet their lives were snuffed out in nanoseconds. Some people meet death long before they expect it, long before they are ready, and — some might even argue — far too soon. We don’t always know why people die when they do.

However, Scripture can instruct us that every life — even the longest — is, in God’s grand plan for history, as fleeting and short-lived as a breath, a shadow, a blade of grass, or a wildflower. “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow,” writes David (Psalm 144:4). Again, the psalmist says, “as for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16).

This knowledge helps inform a proper view of the relationship between God and man. That is, in Moses’s words, “that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). God need not notice mankind (Psalm 144:3), but in compassion he does (Psalm 103:13-14). Because of our sin, man cannot save anyone from eventual death — the wages of sin — nor can he save himself (Psalm 49:7-9). In fact, we can’t even get this obvious truth through thick skulls apart from God’s help. Thus, David prays:

“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!” (Psalm 39:4-6)

In a culture that idolizes youth, it’s worth contemplating our eventual — but not distant — death, that we may get wisdom from such reflection.

2. Riches Cannot Save

As the last verse indicates, one corollary to life’s brevity is the futility of amassing wealth one will never enjoy (see also Ecclesiastes 6:2). The flip side of that coin is that amassed riches cannot deliver either our bodies or our souls. Writes Solomon, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4).

In fact, sometimes wealth exposes those who hold it to greater dangers. Many readers will run far less hazard than the Titan’s three passengers, who paid $250,000 a head for a berth on the fatal submarine expedition. Nor are they likely to die in a private jet crash, as a megadonor’s family did earlier this month. We find this principle in the Bible, too. “The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat” (Proverbs 13:8).

The reason why riches don’t save is that God doesn’t recognize a qualitative difference between rich and poor. He is exactly impartial and un-influenced by the fabulous estates of the wealthiest. After all, he gave them their wealth out of his infinite bounty, and he can just as easily take it away. More significantly, he gave breath to rich and poor, and one day he will take it away from both of them.

Thus, David writes, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath” (Psalm 62:9). And then he applies it, “Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10).

The logical application is not to put our ultimate trust in what cannot save. “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf” (Proverbs 11:28).

But this can be trickier than at first appears. We swim in a culture that assumes our national wealth can and should purchase our absolute security — consider the response to COVID. We can exchange money for security in all sorts of contexts — from home security systems to add-on car safety features to internet encryption technology. Not that it’s bad to purchase safety features, but they are one way our culture subtly invites us to share its unbiblical assumption that money can buy safety. The point is not what we buy with our wallets, but what we rely on with our hearts.

3. Rich People Don’t Matter to God More Than Others

One ironic aspect of this week’s doomed deep-sea operation is that rescuers raced to save the submersible before its air ran out — not knowing it had imploded days earlier. Another less reported irony is that the U.S. government went to great lengths to save these underwater adventure-seekers, but will do far less to help those less fortunately situated.

It’s good that the government displays concern for saving human lives — a vestige of Christianity’s influence on Western civilization. But it underscores the question, why won’t the government commit the same energy, interest, and resources to save victims of human trafficking, border-crossing immigrants exploited by cartels, or unborn babies? Perhaps there are other answers, but it seems that the government is readier to help those with money, influence, or media attention (for that matter, why are the media disproportionately covering the incident?). This sad reality sharpens the Christians to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.

Scripture is clear that governments should not show partiality toward the rich (or against them) but apply the law equally to all (Exodus 23:3, Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 1:17). This is because governments derive their authority to implement temporal justice from God, “who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands” (Job 34:19).

In fact, after every person leaves behind their possessions at death, there is no longer anything to distinguish them but their deeds. “One dies in his full vigor, being wholly at ease and secure, his pails full of milk and the marrow of his bones moist. Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted of prosperity. They lie down alike in the dust, and the worms cover them” (Job 21:24-26). Every person receives life from God and dies as God has foreordained; God shows no partiality to the rich.

4. God Brings Down Human Pride

Ultimately, what matters in a person is not how much money they have, but how they relate to God. Does he trust in the Lord, or does he trust in what he has? Is her heart humble before him, or is it puffed with pride in her rich family or business acumen? Does a false sense of security in their wealth blind them to the importance of obeying God’s laws?

For all of redemptive history, God “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). That was how he operated when he sent his Son, and that’s still the way he operates today. By opposing the proud and giving grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5), God acts for the sake of his own name, so we can be sure he will do it.

God’s riches and power endure for as long as man is short-lived. “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).

For now, the wicked might have wealth and power and prosperity. They might seem to skate through life without consequences or hardship, even though they don’t fear God. But God’s day of reckoning is coming. “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!” (Psalm 73:18-19). The Titan implosion is just one more example of how quickly death can leap upon those who aren’t expecting it.

We can find this principle — that God will judge man’s pride suddenly and finally — throughout Scripture. “For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up — and it shall be brought low” says Isaiah (2:12).

In light of God’s future judgment, and the brevity of human life, Isaiah exhorts his readers, “stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22).

Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.