On June 1 a cruise ship on the Yangtze River sank during a violent storm, killing more than 400 passengers. Because the ship sank so fast, there were only eight survivors, including the captain. The government launched a massive rescue and salvage operation, eventually righting the ship and recovering the bodies of those who had died. As is the case in any country now, Chinese citizens went online to express their grief. Christians joined the conversation as well, using the incident to reflect on the meaning of life and death, and the urgency of spreading the gospel. In this article, translated from Christian Times, the author offers three things for Christians to consider.
Responses to the Ferry Boat Sinking:
Three reflections from the Yangtze River shipwreck for the Christian to consider
The Germanwings crash, the Nepalese earthquake, India’s high heat, famine and flood … whether the result of natural disaster or a manmade calamity, death is a continual reality. For us, most departures from this world are little more than a news item of the day, and maybe not even news at that. In the days that follow, our own lives are little affected by the events.
From this point forward, however, there are those whose lives will never be the same. With regard to the sinking of the “Eastern Star” they are the passengers’ loved ones, the travel agency, and the captain of the ship.
We have no way to fully comprehend the great pain experienced by the thousands who lost family members, nor are we in the place of bearing personal loss or responsibility related to this incident. But for the Christian observing this tragedy there are three things we can consider.
1. Facing Death
Death is the most serious and direct consequence of any catastrophic event. Throughout the ages men and women have sought ways to extend life, but whether it be natural death or—as occurred in the recent shipwreck—unexpected death, ultimately death is inescapable. However, the Bible indicates that the death of each person is never an accident, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”(Acts 17:26)
The Psalmist laments, “You turn people back to dust, saying, 'return to dust, you mortals.' A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” James wrote, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that."
At the same time, the Bible states that people have a soul, and the end of physical life is not the end of life itself. One day the final judgment will come. God will judge all peoples based on righteousness, and the righteous will enter the kingdom of heaven while the wicked will be thrown into hell. For this reason, Christians cherish life on this earth: because it is short and with a set limit so it is precious. It is even more precious because this life will determine our eternal home.
It is said that in the face of death, men and women will recall their life events, as though watching a movie flash before their eyes. At this point, I (Christian Times’ editor) would like to remind us that as Christians we must ask ourselves, when we meet death and this movie plays out, just what sort of picture will we see?
2. Timely Respect and Honor
Reportedly, most of the passengers on this shipwreck were between 50 and 80 years of age, part of a “Red Sunset” tour for the elderly organized by a travel agency. Of the 456 passengers, 430 have already been confirmed dead. It is impossible for us to comprehend the pain their families must endure.
After the accident, a dozen or more family members arrived at the travel agency to find the doors closed tightly. One young man was observed crouching there, sobbing: “Father, Mother, I was wrong. I shouldn’t have let you go off on your holiday”.
This image draws to mind the “Modern Filial Piety” infographic that recently went viral on the [Chinese] internet. One internet commenter stated, “filial piety must come early and not late, a son wants to serve his parents, but they cannot wait forever!”
In fact, the matter of filial piety, or honoring one’s parents, is a hot topic resurfacing regularly in the popular media and public mind. In this shipwreck we once again see what it is to lose a family member forever, and with the specific age group involved we cannot help but think of our own parents and be reminded to honor and respect them earlier rather than later.
We tend to think that our parents will always be with us: “Wait until there is time and I have a good opportunity and I will do my duty by them.” However, in the end this is little more than wishful thinking.
Regardless of whether it is our own life or the lives of loved ones, the reality is that none of this is in our own hands. For Christians, honoring our parents is the first commandment God gave us that comes with a promise: we must make every effort to follow this command, or we may find ourselves facing a lifetime of regret.
3. Rescue Souls
After the incident, China mobilized forces from many avenues to commence rescue efforts. The Prime Minister abandoned all other duties and personally rushed to the scene to direct the rescue. Thousands of military police officers worked night and day on search and rescue teams. Dozens of divers labored non-stop in the murky and dangerous waters of the overturned boat searching for survivors. All this to save even just one more person, all this in a race against time. To pass by or miss someone would be an irreparable mistake.
"Christians who have already been saved become busy with their own lives, ignoring the voices of others calling for help, as they struggle in the waters, perishing even as they cry out in hopelessness."
This is the message of the short film “A Single Glance.” The film portrayed the aforementioned scene, ending with this appeal: “You are already standing on the solid rock. Jesus is calling you to come and help those struggling in the raging ocean—are you willing?”
If saving the life of this mortal body is worth such great effort, then is not the salvation of souls even more a call to which we must not grow apathetic? Faced with the inevitable decay of life and grieving over the dead, Christians must be even more alert in our waiting, considering the Great Commission Christ has given us.
To the one who has the keys to heaven, the charge is given: spread the gospel to the nations, rescue souls.
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