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Human Error at Gitche Gumee

Have you ever seen the Fourth of July fireworks on the shore of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin? It is spectacular. While serving as pastor in Superior, the family decided to spend one Independence Day evening living out the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem Hiawatha: “By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea-Water.”

On July 4th 1988, we put on our winter coats, hats, and scarves to venture out to Barker’s Island. The temperature was in the 40’s, and a stiff breeze came on shore that would rattle the wooden teeth of a mighty Viking. As a born and raised Texan, my thin blood froze and my brain calculated that I had made a big mistake. But the family wanted to see the fireworks, and any fire would help the cause.

As was the custom, sister city Duluth got to shoot off their fireworks first. The first ten minutes of their show went as planned, but all of a sudden there was this loud noise and the western skies lite up with a series of tremendous explosions. For a brief moment, the conflagration resembled Cape Canaveral when a rocket is launched. Then, stillness followed by darkness.

We later learned that a “human error” caused the whole Duluth payload to go off at once, causing some minor injuries and major embarrassment. Compared to that, the Superior fireworks that followed looked pretty tame. But we all went home with quite a story to tell.

If you have ever had a well-planned event go bust, then you can agonize with the company that was hired to produce the show. They had an excellent track record for quality presentations. The city fire and engineering departments had been on site as the arsenal was loaded. Everyone did their job, but the fireworks show failed anyway. Sounds so human.

Most of us have grown up with the adage, “practice makes perfect.” The false assumption is that the more we do something, the less likely we are to make mistakes. If “practice makes perfect” is true, we should rarely have a plane crash, or an auto accident, or lost mail. But the truth is that all of these things continue to happen even though they are repeatedly “practiced” every day.

The blaring headline said, “Human Error.” That’s the problem, we err. Machines can be programmed to assemble widgets all day. As long as they have product and power, the machine will make perfect widgets until reprogrammed. Machines do not think, or second guess themselves. Their nose does not itch and their kidneys do not interrupt the schedule. Machines machine. That’s what they do. But people err.

The Bible is full of people that erred. You may remember when King Saul apologized to David for his grievous error (1 Samuel 26:21). Of course,

Saul continued to get worse because he was a human without regard for God. Then there was Uzzah who disregarded the rules of God and touched the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:7). Or perhaps you remember wicked King Manasseh who erred and led his entire nation astray (2 Chronicles 33).

Some mistakes effect few people. But other mistakes confound a whole nation. Jesus gave a word of warning to all leaders in every station of life. Matthew 22:29 KJV, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” It is one thing to fail at a fireworks show. But it is quite another to err at ignoring the Word of God and denying the power of God.

On this Independence Day, pray for our national leaders to bring America back to a knowledge of God and the power of His Word. It is the only way we will ever succeed.

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