The Tragic Shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Over the last several hundred years there have been about six thousand shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, but one wreck stands out among the rest—the Edmund Fitzgerald. On November 10, 1975, this ship sank on the eastern part of Lake Superior during one of the largest storms ever recorded on North America’s largest lake. All twenty-nine crew members, including Captain Ernest McSorley, tragically lost their lives. With winds howling at one hundred mph and thirty-foot waves crashing against the ship, the sheer power of nature was on full display. The exact cause of the ship’s sinking remains unknown, but its eerie remains rest five hundred feet below the surface approximately twenty miles north of Whitefish Point.
Remembering the Tragedy through Song
The Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck holds a special place in people’s memory, in part because of Canadian singer and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. Lightfoot read about the tragedy in the newspaper and was deeply moved. He composed a song that vividly describes the events of that fateful night. His lyrics raise a profound question: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” Lightfoot’s question resonates with the common inquiry that arises in times of tragedy: Where was God during the storm? How could a ship full of men, with so much life ahead of them, meet such a fate? Similar questions have been asked by others, like NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who have raised doubts about the love of God in the face of suffering and eternal damnation.
Understanding God’s Character and Humanity’s Condition
To answer these weighty questions correctly, it is crucial to start with the right foundation. When we consider the love of God, we must first understand who God is and who we are. God is holy, and in establishing His covenant with the people of Israel, He communicated His character and expectations. God stated, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). However, humanity falls short of this holiness. Scripture affirms, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10), and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God, being just and upright, has the authority to condemn the guilty and send them to hell. He will “render to each one according to his works” (Romans 2:6).
God’s Graciousness and His Love for His People
Thankfully, the story of God’s character does not end with justice. Scripture reveals one of its most precious teachings—God’s graciousness. God describes Himself as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6). Although no one deserves forgiveness, God, out of His grace, made a way for some to experience His love forever. The apostle Paul writes, “In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:4-7). The cross of Jesus Christ exemplifies God’s love for His people, as the most famous verse in the Bible declares that God sent His Son to die for the sins of anyone who believes in Him (John 3:16).
Experiencing God’s Love and Care
Every day humanity lives is a day to experience the love of God. Despite deserving judgment, God allows people to live their lives, showering both saved and unsaved with His care. He causes the sun to shine and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). Every person, regardless of age, can testify that they live under God’s love. Even those who pass away prematurely can affirm that God loved them throughout their time on earth. To live any amount of time is a gracious gift from Him (Acts 17:25). Scripture describes God’s loving care over all who live (Psalm 145:15-16). All of this stems from God’s generous nature. When tragedy struck Job’s household, he did not blame God but instead worshipped Him, saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
The Ultimate Responsibility and Judgment
Gordon Lightfoot and Aaron Rodgers’ charge against God’s love falls short when we recognize who God is and who we are. If we live any length of time on this earth, God has shown us goodness. Moreover, for those who experience God’s grace in Christ, He has been exceedingly kind by offering them eternal life with Him (John 17:3). The blame for rejecting the love of God in Christ lies solely with the individual; it does not rest with God. Jesus Himself declared, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Those who reject Jesus have chosen their own way (Philippians 3:19), and they will receive the consequences they deserve—an eternal separation from the love of God. Jesus soberly warns those who refuse God’s love, saying, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” In this instance, the blame will be rightly assigned, and the sentence will be justly given.
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