If you have regular access to any sort of media outlet, you’re probably well-aware of the recent South Korean ferry capsizing. It has been more than three days, and there are hundreds of people still missing. Most are most likely dead.
Every now and then, when stories like these happen, it forces us to just stop everything we are doing for a brief moment and reflect on the brokenness of our world. And during these moments, those who are more spiritually inclined often ask God why all of this is happening. I’m always reminded of the song “What a Catch, Donnie” by Fall Out Boy. I don’t quite understand the lyrical content of most Fall Out Boy songs, but there has always been this one part that has struck a chord with me in this one, and it’s especially ironic in light of what happened on Monday. “They say the captain goes down with the ship. So when the world ends, will God go down with it?”
In other words, the world is broken. Isn’t God supposed to be in charge? What is God doing?
I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR recently, and they did a story last Monday titled “Violence In Public Places And How It Affects Our Sense of Security.” In the show, Diane interviewed Dr. Liza Gold, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center, and Dr. Gold said something quite fascinating in regard to mass shootings (I’ll tie all of this together eventually). Here’s an excerpt.
“Well, you know, as we’ve talked about before, mass shootings, mass stabbings are a very low base rate incidents. They’re actually very infrequent relative to the amount of violence, especially gun violence, that occurs in this country. The morbidity and mortality of gun violence is huge, but the mass shootings only represent a very small, small fraction of that problem. However, because they are so sensational in the sense of them happening, A, in public places, B, out of nowhere, C, people who have no connection with the shooters often or usually, it makes us all, you know, very anxious to sort of think, that could be me, that could be my spouse, that could be my kid… And I think that when people feel powerless about things that are potentially dangerous, they obviously become more anxious. And because we are not addressing the problem, particularly of gun violence in this country in a constructive way, we’re all stuck. We’re all paralyzed, and that paralysis increases the sense of anxiety that these incidents cause.”
When things like mass shootings happen, all of society is stricken with a brief paralysis. And I feel that it’s the same with other tragedies, even when there is no malicious intent involved. When there is a Hurricane-Katrina-like or South-Korean-ferry-like event, people stop in their tracks. That could have been me.
But the sad thing is that after a few days, or after a few weeks, most people will move on with their lives as if nothing had ever happened. The only people who really will have their lives transformed are the ones who were directly impacted by the event. Probably the relatives of those who had died, probably the ones who almost died but were rescued. But everybody else will move on. After all, it never happened to them. It could have happened to them, but it didn’t.
There’s something else that I’m thinking about, and it’s a more disconcerting thought.
Today I read an article from the New York Times regarding the Korean ferry, and it was talking about how the captain of the ferry was being arrested for abandoning ship. Supposedly, Captain Lee Jun-seok, 69, was one of the first people to reach the shore by rescue boat. Well he is now facing five different charges, including negligence of duty and violation of maritime law. John B. Padgett III, a retired United States Navy rear admiral and former submarine captain, said of the captain, “That guy’s an embarrassment to anybody who’s ever had command at sea.”
Wow. For the next few weeks, Lee Jun-seok will probably be the target of many people on the blogosphere. He probably did all sorts of significant things in his lifetime, which included four decades of experience at sea, but as far as worldwide reputations go, none of those things will matter. He will be going down in history as the captain who abandoned ship.
Of course, there’s a part of me that is outraged. How can this guy leave his ship behind? But then there’s another part of me that’s more sympathetic. That could have been me. It’s one thing to potentially be the victim to some sort of disaster, but it’s another thing to potentially be the one responsible for the disaster. If I was in that situation, when push comes to shove, what would I have done?
For sure, when I am sitting here drinking some iced coffee at Starbucks, and I am imagining a scenario when I get to be a hero, of course I would say that I would sacrifice my life to save those in need. But it might be a totally different scene when I’m actually experiencing the scenario myself. It’s a lot easier to point the finger from the outside. When my ship is actually sinking, and extreme panic, guilt, and confusion are taking over, what would I really do? Would I be able to walk the talk?
I don’t know. I’m afraid to find out.
But I do know what Jesus would do.
Jesus was also in a similar scenario. He was in agony in the Garden of Gethsename, sweating drops of blood, begging for God to take his cup of wrath away. But unlike Lee Jun-seok, he chose not to abandon ship. He could’ve abandoned ship if he wanted to. After all, it wasn’t his fault we were in this mess. But he didn’t.
Jesus, the captain of the universe, chose to go down with the ship. He chose to follow through with the the mocking, the humiliation, and the torture. He chose to be abandoned by God himself at the cross. He chose to stay his course until it was finished.
Take that, Fall Out Boy.
But that’s not all. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. And we are celebrating the fact that the Captain not only went down with the ship, but he is carrying the ship out of the water. And it’s not hypothetical. This isn’t some far-away could-have-happened-to-me story that just makes me pause and reflect for a few days and then move on with my life.
I was the victim. I was rescued. This rescue mission happened to me.
And because Jesus saved me, I will live my life in gratitude, humility, and confidence. And I will pledge myself to follow my Captain wherever he takes me. He is a Captain worth following.