Letter from the dead

November 18, 2020 · Print This Article

Tragedies can make or break us. They can make of some heroes and others cowards. The sinking of the Titanic was no different in this respect.

If you’ve ever watched the 1997 Titanic epic with Leonardo DiCaprio and and Kate Winslet, you may remember the cowardice of one particular passenger when the boat started to sink. When only women and children were allowed into lifeboats, a sharped-nosed, moustached character by the name of Bruce Ismay, shamefully slipped in to one as it was lowered.

It’s not worth thinking about how we would’ve reacted in coming face to face with the icy, deep blue, ink-black abyss ready to swallow all who did not get onto a lifeboat. But there were others who reacted differently in this acute predicament.

One of the heroes was John Harper. This weekend a letter he wrote from the Titanic was auctioned, the successful bidder offering £42,000 for it. I wonder whether John Harper’s brave actions were part of the reason someone was willing to pay such a high price.

On that fateful night, this father of one young girl refused a place on the lifeboat with his daughter and sister so he could offer words of comfort to the other passengers. As a result, he went down with the doomed ocean liner. Described as “probably one of the bravest men on that boat”,1 his sacrifice did not stop there. He also gave his life jacket to another. Maybe it was Harper’s faith that taught him this approach to selflessness.

As a Christian preacher, Harper lived the call of the Scriptures, to love others as Jesus loved us and gave himself for us. When I read of this man my mind drifted to Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote about Christians. Reflecting on his experience with Christians, he concluded, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ”. Sadly, Gandhi had a point. But not when it came to Baptist preacher John Harper and others like him.

Sometimes we judge the merits of a faith or a religion by the lowest common denominator – often, they are people who do not embody the ideals of the faith. In the case of Christianity, both Gandhi’s statement and Harper’s actions encourage us to judge Christianity by Jesus himself, the ideal that John Harper followed.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

1 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-54934283
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