Occasionally a news event will produce images that remain imprinted in the brain for a lifetime. Pictures of the luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia, capsized but only partially submerged in the waters of the Mediterranean, are a case in point.
In addition to the obvious shock value of an 18-story vessel keeled over to starboard, I see the Costa Concordia disaster as a foreboding symbol for the western economies that helped produce the great ship. We are riding along in the lap of luxury enjoying every possible comfort and pleasure, all the while believing that our first-class lifestyle could never be brought to a full stop, that our economy could never run aground. Life has taught me never to say never—no matter how improbable an outcome may be.
Our prayers and sympathy go out to those who have lost loved ones in this disaster. At the same time, there are many lessons to glean from what went wrong.
Solomon taught us, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”1
The first mistake that helped seal the fate of the great vessel and its unsuspecting passengers was that the ship veered nearly 5 miles off course, according to The New York Times:
“‘The fact that it left from this course is due solely to a maneuver by the commander that was unapproved, unauthorized and unknown to Costa,’ a company official said at an emotional press conference in Genoa. ‘He wanted to show the ship, to go nearby this island of Giglio, so he decided to change the course of the ship,’ Mr. Foschi said, admitting that the ship had done a similar but approved maneuver last summer for a festival.”2
At present, no one is sure exactly why the captain veered so close to the obvious danger of the beautiful Giglio Island. Some have theorized that he was simply trying to provide just “a little bit more” for his customers to see and enjoy.
One has to wonder where our political and financial “commanders” are steering our economic ship. Unlike the passengers aboard the Costa Concordia, a staggering 82% of us in the United States believe that we too are veering dangerously “off course,” according to Gallup.3
Admittedly, the issue is complex, and opinions about why we are so far off course vary wildly. Still, we should ask ourselves if we too are being lured toward the rocks by our constant desire for just “a little bit more.” Have we departed from God’s charted course for our lives to seek more pleasure, more comfort, more of everything? Is our greatest problem really that our hearts are out of sync with God’s plan for real economic growth?
Lack of Preparation and Caution
Much of the blame and outrage has been directed to the captain of the Costa Concordia. He has been arrested and accused of abandoning his post during the crisis, leaving the ship and its passengers to fend for themselves. But other reports reveal an additional factor that may have led to an increase in passenger deaths and suffering.
Cruise ship passengers are required by law to attend a safety briefing within 24 hours of a ship leaving port. Costa Cruises insists that most of the passengers onboard the Costa Concordia had taken part in an evacuation drill. However, passengers have complained that the briefing was more of a “sales pitch” for shore excursions than an emergency preparedness exercise.4
Lulled by two decades of largely incident-free cruising, passengers saw little need for concern about such improbable events as hitting rocks, capsizing or sinking. These modern floating skyscrapers with cutting edge navigation equipment were thought too big and too safe to ever encounter such problems. Thus, the safety briefings seem to have become just another way for the cruise line to up-sell shore attractions to a captive audience with little worry about the risks.
Then, too, after the Costa Concordia hit the rocks, the ship’s lights went out. Rather than informing passengers of the dire nature of the emergency, the crew announced only that the ship was having an “electrical problem.” Many passengers slept through the night unaware of the looming disaster.
Similarly, since the Great Recession began in 2008, public officials and economists have advised us repeatedly that the economy has “recovered.” We must be starting to believe it. Consumer confidence and spending are on the increase while personal saving is declining. The American public seems to think it is time to go back to the good old days of “don’t worry, be happy.”
A Departure from Historic Values
Escorting women and children to the lifeboats first and the captain staying with the ship until all others have reached safety are long-held maritime traditions that reflected the values of a once noble society. It was not so with the Costa Concordia. The captain made his way to a life raft early in the evacuation process, no doubt giving passengers the impression that it was “every man for himself.” The evacuation quickly descended into chaos.
Underlying the downturn of western economies is a similar departure from our historic values. Europe and the United States rose to economic power by adhering to biblical principles that placed value on hard work, thrift, saving and avoidance of debt. Both Europe and the U.S. have suffered significant erosion of these values. This is nowhere more evident than in the case of sovereign debt which has surpassed annual GDP in several European nations and the United States.
The Costa Concordia, a state-of-the-art luxury liner, ultimately listed over on her side in a humiliating display that was unthinkable before the proud vessel ran aground.
Europe and America surely seem headed toward a similar fate if we do not address the underlying “rocks” that threaten our economies—but all may not be lost.
Analysts already foresee significant changes in safety practices coming to the cruise industry as a result of “the psychological impact of seeing the unthinkable happen.”5
I hope that many adjustments will be forthcoming not only in the cruise industry but also for those of us who see the economic danger ahead. There is still time to heed the warning signs and make personal adjustments to protect ourselves and others.
The Weeks Ahead
As I write this, I’m 35,000 feet over the Atlantic, on a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. We’re on a two-week mission to the vast and beautiful African continent that will include speaking engagements in Durban and Kimberley, South Africa; Blantyre, Malawi; and Walvis Bay and Windhoek, Namibia. Our staff and volunteers are engaged in some very exciting work in these countries but unfortunately, I won’t be able to post anything on my blog until I return due to challenges with Internet access.
The schedule won’t permit me to resume this column until the second week of February. Your prayers for our trip to Africa are certainly appreciated.
Your comments about this article are welcome below.
 Ecclesiastes 7:2
 “Oversight of Cruise Lines at Issue After Disaster,” The New York Times, Jan. 16, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/world/europe/oversight-of-cruise-lines-at-issue-after-disaster.h“tml?_r=1&pagewanted=all
 “U.S. Satisfaction Up Slightly at Start of 2012, to 18%,” Gallup, Jan. 11, 2012 http://www.gallup.com/poll/151979/national-satisfaction-slightly-start-2012.aspx
 “After Sinking, Some Wonder: Is Cruising Safe?” CNN Travel, Jan. 16, 2012. http://articles.cnn.com/2012-01-16/travel/travel_cruise-ship-safety_1_cruise-ship-sea-diamond-cruise-industry?_s=PM:TRAVEL
 The New York Times