Monday, September 18, 2006

On being a good man in a storm

As we saw in Acts 27 last week, in Fair Havens, Paul lost the argument and the vote on whether the ship's company should try to move down the coast of Crete, to Phoenix, if a wind came up.

But, as he warned, as they sailed out of Fair Havens and down the coast, they were snatched up in a typhonic wind [as the Gk puts it!], a noreaster -- i.e. an early winter storm. The result was devastating, as the ship apparently immediately was reduced to slow-sinking condition, and was being driven towards the sand bars off the coast of what we now know as Libya:

AC 27:13 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. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the "northeaster," swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure. 17 When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

Then, in the midst of despair, Paul again intervened:

AC 27:21 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. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, `Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.' 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island."

I find his words spoken into a multicultural, potentially hostile situation, interesting: he confessed God, and pointed to the hope that God had graciously opened [echoing Jonah's very similar yet strikingly contrasting remarks]. Thus, he spoke with a consciously prophetic voice into the multicultural, volatile. apparently hopeless situation -- one where his earlier [now demonstrably prudent] words had not been heeded.

Then, after fourteen nights, the ship neared a rocky and dangerous unknown shore. Anchors were cast out by the stern, to hold the ship off the rocks. Then, when the sailors were about to again act selfishly by exploiting the ignorance of the passengers, Paul intervened a third time:

Ac 27:30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. [NB: which did not make technical sense, but most landlubbers would not know that.] 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved." 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away.

In turn when the soldiers wished to put the prisoners to death [fearing flight thus the forfeit of their own lives], the Centurion-- out of gratitude to the man who had just saved them all -- put an end to that idea at once. So, after a night's battering, the ship was run onto a sandbar, and as it broke up, passengers and crew made their way to the shore best as they could. That way, all 276 souls were saved from the sea.

Then, onshore, as the Maltans built a fire, Paul, in helping out, was bitten by a viper. The immediate assumption by the pagan islanders was that Justice was coming for her own payment, then when they saw that he was not harmed, they were overawed. Thus a door for ministry was opened on that Island [which is proudly Christian to this day], and after a winter in Malta, Paul was able to go on to Rome.

Several points jump out as lessons on democratic governance:

1] Selfish agendas often work against the interest of the community and even those who put them forth, but clever rhetoric can make them appear to be in the best interests of the common good. (Thus, we see for instance how the ship's owner, pilot and crew acted.)

2] Often such agendas can be exposed by the objectively unjustifiable risks they run, and/or by how they seek to exploit our ignorance. (Here, we see the attempt to abandon the passengers on a ruse as a capital case in point.)

3] The same case also shows that those who would exploit others are often the first to try to abandon their victims to their fate if things go wrong. Thence, we see the community reforming force of the gospel principle of neighbour-love: RO 13:8 . . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the [moral] law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

4] We also see that by having spoken the unwelcome truth earlier on, Paul gained the credibility to intervene later on; precisely because the wisdom of his advice was now known to all. (Thus, also, is underscored the importance of hearing out and protecting the minority down to the individual; and, the importance of going though the storm with the community, where this is what is either inevitable or what God counsels us. Plainly, too, the majority or the powerful and influential are not always right.)

5] Paul, in so further intervening, acted to give prophetic hope, and to protect the company from further selfish actions -- and was believed because of the credibility he had earned the hard way.

6] On a sadder note, we also see that too often sound advice only becomes evident to the majority and to decision-makers through the disasters that could have been averted had it been heeded when it was given.

7] As a direct consequence as well, we see that if democratic governance and government are to work, we need a well-informed public and we need to have a determination to act prudently in the face of uncertainties, hazards and risks. That means that we need to be very cautious when our interests and/or emotions and/or loyalties to certain leaders or causes are appealed to as if that should be enough to decide wisely. The same holds for those who pose on their expertise in the face of our ignorance. A warped, biased, agenda-driven media -- unfortunately, I just described a major slice of the media all over the world in our time -- is also a plain menace to the public interest.

Well did Churchill observe that democracy is the worst form of government -- except for the others. For, a spirit of "unity" in the teeth of godly counsel and wisdom avails naught, save disaster. That is why, a long time ago now, Bro Henry, a wise old tailor and Sunday school teacher told my class, that one man, with God, is a majority. [He was speaking of Elijah and his challenge to the evil, apostate and foolish regime of Ahab under the influence of Jezebel, her Phoneican agendas and her 450 prophets of Baal. Resemblance to the current situation with Western culture, as pope Benedict XVI observed a few days ago, is NOT coincidental.]

Majority rule is not an excuse for either mob-rule, or for manipulation, or deceptive rhetoric. Down that road lies shipwreck. So, let us re-open our minds to the principles of government under God, and thus to godly, wise, prophetic intellectual, cultural and community leadership. END


Bart Nielsen said...

This has been a great series of posts. I especially liked the tie-in you made between the actions of the sailors as they approached Malta and Romans 13:8-10. It is so easy (American context here) to allow the visceral hatred always expressed for President Bush and the anti-Christian views and agendas of the moonbat left to allow us as Christians to reflexively support Republicans and the President when clearly they, too, are fallen and do not always act in the best interests of those whom Christ calls us to care for.

An example of where personal moral responsibility and government policy intersect is in entrepreneurship. Surely as conservatives we want government to do nothing to block people from establishing, maintaining, and passing on to their children small businesses. And yet the founders and operators of these businesses have an obligation to not blight their neigborhoods or prey upon those who will be their customers or enable the worst elements in people to grow and express themselves. So while we favor businesses we certainly don't favor businesses which will (short, nonexhaustive list here): cater to people's propensity to try for something for nothing (casinos), encourage drunkenness (public or private), pollute the groundwater or air.

Gordon said...


Thanks for the compliment. Appreciated.

I have had to pause to deal with yet another upsurge of the now all-too-routine, "Christians are enemies of freedom" rhetoric; this one here in the Caribbean, adn that at the pen of a well-known public person in my homeland.

More to come on the issues that flow from Acts 27 and 17 as we address the challenge of reformation in post modern, significantly apostate Western culture.