Tag Archives: humility

A Bizarre Disaster: the Boston Molasses Flood

What happens when a steel holding tank, 50 feet high, 90 feet in diameter, and filled to the brim with 2.3 million gallons of molasses, explodes?

The city of Boston found out on January 15, 1919, suffering one of the strangest disasters in history. A wave of molasses 25 feet high roared down the surrounding streets at 35 mph. The steel tank turned into shrapnel; the rivets holding it together broke loose and flew like machine gun bullets. Twenty-five people were killed and 150 injured; and the property damage staggered the imagination.

Why did this happen? Poor construction, inadequate testing, and rather than address the leaks reported in the tank from the beginning, its owners painted it brown so that the leaking molasses wouldn’t show. There was also the effect of impending legislation which we now call Prohibition: molasses was used in the production of various alcoholic beverages, and the owners were trying to secure their bottom line before Congress put them out of business: so they cut corners.

All sorts of regulations and safeguards have been added since then. But bridges still collapse, buildings still fail, houses still vanish into sinkholes. We are highly unlikely ever to see another molasses flood–but who knows?

For we are sinners, we break our own laws as well as God’s, we will always be prone to rush things through without taking care of all the details–and we are highly resistant to acquiring the virtue of humility.

History is full of warnings. He that has ears, let him hear.


Joseph and His Brothers

(I’m still sick, but nowhere near as bad as I was Friday night and most of yesterday.Thanks for all your prayers and good wishes!)

When I was a boy, I was fascinated by the story of Joseph. His brothers pretended he was dead and sold him into slavery, he got thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t do–and yet he rises to the top. God gives him the power to read the future from dreams, and the wisdom to make the most of it.

But really the thing that got me was Joseph’s brothers. All right, Jacob was wrong to make Joseph his favorite; that didn’t sit well with the other lads. I got that. But I was too young to appreciate how much trouble Joseph made for himself by telling his brothers that they were all going to bow down to him, because he’d dreamed it. How to make yourself obnoxious!

I was afraid of Joseph’s brothers. In my book of Bible stories there was a picture of them, kind of in a huddle, debating whether to kill Joseph or what. If these weren’t bad guys, I didn’t know who were. And they had the power. They had Joseph at their mercy, and could do anything to him that they liked.

Now I’m older, and there’s another part of the story that impresses me the most. The time came when Joseph had his brothers at his mercy. He could have ordered all their throats cut, or had them all sent as slaves to the mines in the desert, and no one would have stopped him. Think of the temptation! “All right, you creeps–welcome to payback time…” You can easily imagine what Joseph would do if he were the (ahem) action hero of a modern movie.

But what he does do is awesome. He forgives them. “And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Genesis 50:19-20)

[For those who do not know the Bible, Joseph’s being sold into slavery in Egypt, and rising there to the highest office in the land, was the means by which the whole family of Israel was saved in time of famine.]

Joseph is great enough not to be seduced by his own greatness. He humbles himself before God. A great man in this world today would be far too foolish ever to do that. “Hey! I am in the place of God, and I can do anything I want!”

When they finally did bow down and honor him, Joseph raised them up again. And that is awesome.


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