Jack epitomized the ideal of security: heir to a family fortune; owner of real estate holdings in Manhattan, including an elite hotel; revenues from inventions; and seats on the boards of directors of more than twenty corporations—all contributed to a fortune estimated at between one hundred million and two hundred million dollars. His future seemed secure. When he married a woman nearly 30 years his junior, he and his young bride honeymooned in Egypt and Europe. Jack took no chances for the return voyage to America, booking passage on the safest ship ever built—the SS Titanic, pride of the White Star line.
Within days, John Jacob Astor was dead.
When Jack Astor set sail on the Titanic, it was believed to be unsinkable. But it sailed an ocean full of hazards, and when crew members made crucial mistakes, ignoring warnings of icebergs, the great ship went down.
And then there was F. T. Aquilino. At 26, already a vice president and the youngest partner in a major New York company dealing in international finance, F. T.’s future seemed secure. He was supposed to be driving to Hartford, Connecticut, for a business meeting that morning, but he stopped at his office for some reason. A business partner contacted F. T. at his desk on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center south tower on September 11, 2001, just minutes before the first plane hit.
Before that fateful morning, F. T. Aquilino had safely worked in the World Trade Center for years. The building had withstood decades of storms and winds; the airliners that struck the buildings and brought them down did not malfunction. He had no way of anticipating that angry men would intentionally sacrifice themselves by crashing a commercial airliner into his building.
didn't they trust God?
At this point, you may be expecting me to say something like, “If these men had put their trust in God, their security would have been assured, and they would not have suffered such losses.” But as I read it, the Bible tells a different story. Take, for example, John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said “Among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28). Surely his future was secure.
On the contrary, John never seemed secure. He lived a life of privation in the desert on a subsistence diet of carob beans and wild honey. Although his preaching gained him notoriety, no sooner did he become well-known than he was eclipsed by an even more influential Teacher, his Cousin, Jesus of Nazareth. While Jesus’ ministry flourished, John earned the displeasure of Herod and especially Herod’s wife. And in a memorable episode, Herod’s grandiose promise to his stepdaughter literally cost John his head! A life of hardship ended at the whim of a weak despot.
Together, Astor and Aquilino had blessings, character, fame, fortune, family, talent—yet none of that brought them security.
Everybody wants security. Lots of people offer it. Entire industries exist to give it. Financial planners offer security for my retirement. Insurance companies offer security in case of property damage or loss and financial security for my family in case of my demise. Others offer alarm systems to give me security from crime. And the government exists primarily to keep its citizens secure: secure from foreign aggression, secure from crime, secure from disease, even secure in old age. And all of these companies and institutions do provide a limited measure of security.
Yet so long as we live in a broken world filled with broken people, nothing can guarantee us security. Foolish men helped sink the Titanic. Angry men brought down the Twin Towers. An evil man and an evil woman killed John the Baptist.
where it all began
But that is not the end. The Bible indicates that human evil affects the planet itself, that broken people have caused the broken world. For example, Genesis tells us that when Adam sinned, God cursed the ground (Genesis 3:17). At Creation, God gave Adam dominion—rulership—over the earth, over the planet itself. So when Adam rebelled against God, the planet suffered. Later, when men filled the planet with violence (Genesis 6:11), God brought a great flood on the planet, and the Bible tells us that the disaster permanently altered it as well. In the beginning, a gentle mist arose each night to water the earth (Genesis 2:6). But in the Flood, “all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11).
Exactly what that entailed, we do not know for certain. We do know that for the first time, torrential rains fell upon the earth. Possibly, when “the springs of the great deep burst,” the plates that form the earth’s crust shattered and began to jostle and grind. The rains now bring erosion and floods as well as life-giving moisture. The moving plates bring volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
Ever since the Flood, this broken world has become a dangerous place for the human race that broke it. Throughout the ages of recorded history, drought, flood, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis have exacted planetary revenge, killing untold millions and giving the lie to humanity’s illusions of security in this world.
And this reveals, as does all of nature, the grace of God.
“Wait a minute,” you say, “how can such terrible events reveal the grace of God?” His power, maybe. Perhaps His sovereignty. But grace? Yes, grace.
Ancient man, confronted with the destructive power of nature, knew that his only real security lay in God. Oh, he may have worshiped false gods, may have worshiped many gods, but atheism never tempted him. Life was short and beset with hardship and danger, even for the most well-off. The mummies of ancient Egypt reveal that even the wealthy and powerful of that society often suffered debilitating injury and disease, and few lived long. Even mighty Pharaoh recognized life would be short, and he spent much of his reign preparing for his death. Funeral ceremonies were attempts to satisfy the gods that the deceased had lived a righteous life. Ancient man knew better than to seek security in this life.
By contrast, today’s advanced technology tempts us to think that we can achieve a measure of security in this life—that everyone will live long and prosper—without God. Our prosperity, coupled with sophisticated financial instruments, such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, allow us to accumulate money for our retirement, so we think we don’t need God to provide for our future. Medicine can detect diseases early and treat or cure conditions once considered fatal. Scientific instruments monitor the movements of the earth’s crust. Satellites track the weather. Our advanced communications systems bring all of this together to warn us of impending danger. And our means of transportation can move us to places of safety, rescue us from dangerous situations, and rapidly take us to medical facilities for treatment—even in cases of trauma.
And so, increasingly in this advanced world, people live without deference to God. It follows that if we don’t need God’s assistance to live the good life, we don’t need His advice about how to live well. We feel free to ignore all the codes of conduct and restrictions on behavior that God gave us. We think we can get along without them.
But death strikes even the affluent. Princess Diana, in the bloom of youth, dies suddenly in a car crash. John Ritter, a TV actor with his own show, collapses and dies without warning from an undetected vascular disorder. Planes and ships go down, taking the rich and the mighty with them. A tsunami strikes Indonesia, sweeping wealthy tourists and poor villagers to their deaths, many never to be found. A bridge collapses in Minneapolis during rush hour. The rich, the poor, the righteous, and the profane all die together.
a better world
These terrible events bring us face-to-face with the reality that despite all our advanced technology and institutions, security in this world remains an illusion for all. Those who trust in God die just as those who do not—suddenly, at an early age, without warning. But there is a difference.
The Bible tells us that Abraham was one of the richest men in the ancient world. At God’s direction, Abraham gave up the relative safety of his birthplace, setting out on a long pilgrimage. “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents” (Hebrews 11:9). When Sarah died, Abraham had to pay an exorbitant price for a place to bury her. Yet his faith remained firm. Abraham kept “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (verse 10). In this world, we have no security. The forces of evil and of nature will continue to strike unpredictably and with fatal results. But the faithful can look forward to a better world beyond death. Our only real security is in God, for this world—and the next.
Ed Dickerson is a freelance writer, lay pastor, and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®. He writes from Iowa.