Essay / Misc.

Nearer My God to Thee

John Mark Reynolds, 2005.

Tonight almost a century ago the RMS Titanic sank. Thousands of people lost their lives in a disaster that came to symbolize the death of the false optimism that had marked the start of the century.

Liberalism in 1900 felt it had at last escaped the chains of fundamentalism. Christianity would be purged of the Cross and the blood and become a social gospel. Socialism seemed like the economic system of the future and would form the practical content of this creedless Christianity. A group of liberals started a magazine they dared call the Christian Century. Man felt like he could be God. Science would solve all our problems. A single iceberg on a cold April night destroyed the largest object moved by man up to that time.

What was it like to stand there as the captain of that ship and know that you were doomed to die? You could order the finest meal, the best wine, and command the most powerful engines on the planet, but you could not save the ship. It was a “mathematical certainty” the ship would die and you with it. For as certain as the death of the liner was the mathematics of the lifeboats: not even half the passengers and crew could be saved.

What was it like to stand holding your wife and know that you would never see her again? What was it like to tell the white lie that “you were a strong swimmer” and that “help was surely on the way”? What was it like to be the woman in the lifeboat and know that it was lie and see your husband light a last cigarette and stand by the rail watching your lifeboat lowered to the water? What was it like to be a millionaire with money to spare in your pockets and a young, pregnant wife in a lifeboat, and know you too must die? What was it like to hear the band play on and on as a soundtrack to the ship going up into the air to plunge to the very depths of the sea?

I should know. You should know. For it is our condition tonight. Tonight it is a mathematical certainty that we shall die and soon. Hamlet’s Undiscovered Country is before us. We can die well, like John Paul the Great and like the gentlemen of the first class, or we can die badly like some Hollywood star trying to botox his way to immortality and like the cads of first class who let women die to save their own skins. In any case, we shall die.

Atheism can posture bravely about the end. A good man can be brave in the face of sudden death perhaps, but what if death is not the end? The most frightful thing is that the last plunge into the sea may not be all. What dreams may come? What reality? What if selfishness cannot be washed away in one unselfish act at the moment of death? What if someone has come score and kept a record?

It is a fact, as certain as death, that one divine Man has been ahead of us and returned. He has gone down to go up. He has seen what dreams may come. Jesus Christ has conquered death. The strong, the most manly of all men, died for us that we may live. He could have saved Himself, but He died so that we the weak, the unworthy, stow aways not even steerage, could be saved. His salvation is not short term and it does not pretend to be salvation from suffering. No. Instead, it embraces suffering and the coldness of the wine-dark sea. It plunges down past the very bottom to Hades itself and it sets the willing captives free.

Thank God for Him. Thank God for His Church. Thank God that I stand in myself, captain of a doomed body, and need not issue the order: “Every man for himself.” One has come who has given the order: “The Divine Man for everyone else.” We are saved. How I love my savior! How I long to pass through death into life and be much nearer to Him!

There in my Father’s home, safe and at rest,

There in my Savior’s love, perfectly blest;

Age after age to be, nearer my God to Thee.

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,

Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee.

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