It has often been said that “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” However, this is just as misleading as the equally common idea that might – or, for that matter; power, or wealth – makes right. In fact, it is right that makes right. So, as we consider our rebuilding/ re-development challenges and an upcoming election cycle (thus the need for us to collectively make a wise decision on our national leadership over the next several years), let us reflect on a key incident in the career of the Apostle Paul, while he was on his way to Rome as an Appeals prisoner:
[Our ship] made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them, "Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also." But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. . . . . When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the "northeaster," swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along . . . When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: "Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. [Ac 27:7 – 22, as excerpted.]
The incident exposes the down side to collective decision-making:
--> The uncontrollable but partly predictable environment precipitated a crisis: buffetted by heavy head-winds, the ship was delayed until it was necessary to winter in a safe harbour, but the first harbour, Fair Havens, was not fully suitable. So, the majority wanted to move on to a hopefully better prospect, Phoenix.
--> Paul warned of the risk involved, but the owner and the kubernete spoke with the voice of wealth and technical know-how respectively: they were more than willing to go along with the crowd, and advised the Centurion in charge to run a dangerous risk in the hope of a quick and desirable advantage.
--> As a result, the lone voice of safety and caution was easily overwhelmed by the majority, backed up by wealth and technical expertise; so the decision was to go ahead if opportunity should present itself.
--> Soon, a gentle south wind seemed to offer every advantage, and it was eagerly seized. But, before long, sudden disaster struck in the form of an early winter storm, and at once the ship was reduced to sinking condition, forcing the sailors to try to see if they could keep off the sandbars off the Libyan coast, and so they were only able to drift across the stormy seas while hope of a safe landfall faded.
--> Then, at the end, it was the very same Paul whose advice and leadership had been dismissed when things were looking good, who had to stand up and give hope and counsel. Then, he had to intervene a third time, to save lives by exposing the sailors’ plot to abandon the passengers as the ship ran aground on the north coast of Malta. So, through his second intervention, the company were all saved, even though the ship and its cargo were lost.
Plainly, this incident exposes the downside of democracy, of technical advice, and of looking to the wealthy and powerful for wise counsel: for, in a world of self-interested sinners the majority, the wealthy, the technically expert and the powerful are often tempted to act in their own perceived interests, rather than on what is wise and right. Sometimes, they get away with it, but that simply makes them less willing to listen to sensible advice the next time around. Sooner or later, such self-interested, reckless action leads to disaster. For, it is what is right that is right, regardless of who proposes or supports or opposes it. As David counselled: “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it . . .” Ps 127:1a.
So, now, let’s reflect on our own circumstances as we work to rebuild Montserrat; then let’s talk, let’s pray and let’s act.