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Paul: “You should have listened.”

Shipwreck is the emblem of disaster.  Paul said he had suffered shipwreck three times (2 Cor 11:25) and used this term to describe apostates from the faith (1 Tim 1:19).  Shipwrecks happen when people disregard wisdom.  The bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is home to quite a few old Spanish ships that were overloaded with plunder from the new world and thus couldn’t withstand storms at sea.  Chock full of gold, they sank like stones when the waves broke over them.

Acts chapter 27 describes a shipwreck which started when the ship’s owner along with his sailors and Roman soldiers ignored a warning from Paul.  He said, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster.”  He spoke not as a sailor but as a man of God.  To the Romans, he was just another prisoner on a ship headed for Rome.  They were the maritime experts and trusted their own judgment above his.  Too bad for them.

Not long after they set sail, a wind called Euroclydon began to blow, what we would call a hurricane.   So fierce was this wind that the sailors could do nothing against it but were forced to let the ship be thrust along with the wind.  As panic set in, the sailors began to throw everything overboard trying to gain a little buoyancy for the ship, eventually even throwing away the tools and gear used to operate the ship.   Luke says they went many days seeing neither the sun nor the stars and even despaired of life.  (Acts 27:18-20)

When Paul eventually spoke up again, he said,  “You should have listened to me.” (Acts 27:21)

This was not a matter of spite or recrimination.  It was correction.  The ship wasn’t yet destroyed, and nobody had lost his life.  If there was any hope in this terrifying situation, it lay in correcting the original error by obeying the voice of the Lord.   He is, after all, the Master of the sea, and “the winds and waves still know his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.”  The one who calmed the waters could certainly guide people to a peaceful shore.

Likewise, America’s political and economic situation grows out of a moral and spiritual problem.  It is not possible to have political liberty and economic security while the nation is plunging into moral and religious shipwreck.  We’re inclined to think a modern Euroclydon has recently begun to blow upon our politics and economics, but a generation ago this wind was already sinking marriages and corrupting churches.  It blew to the destruction of numberless unborn, has lately overturned the natural roles of male and female and abetted the most shameful perversions.  Only when the wind began to blow upon our monetary system did Americans begin to pay attention to what’s happening to the whole country.  The problem all along has been that the nation has disregarded the Word of Christ.  (Hos 4:10)

To people with target fixation on the economic crisis, proposing a time of spiritual reflection looks like a distraction.  They counsel us to listen to the experienced sailors — in our case, the expert accountants, wizards of finance, and political reformers.

Yet even on a purely pragmatic level, it’s clear that these people are as helpless as those first century sailors who put to sea in a ship with oars, encountered a hurricane and got trounced.  When all earthly hope was lost, they found hope still alive in a man of God aboard the ship, and God, for the sake of one, spared the entire boatload (Acts 27:23-24 — a picture of the Gospel if ever there was one!).  God for Christ’s sake will spare this nation, but only if we turn to him in obedient faith and ask him for deliverance.

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