The Sea Rescue Analogy

In Sunday School class, I once asserted that, since it's God who does the saving work, it makes no sense to claim that we chose to let God save us. Would it not be odd if a person who was rescued at sea, when telling others of the experience, focused on his own choice in letting the rescuer rescue him? Someone asked what if there were lots of people drowning, and the rescuer could have saved them all but chose to save only some?

First, it should be pointed out that this question does not constitute an objection directed against the point I was making. Rather, it seeks to use my analogy against the larger framework of my view of theology, that is, against Calvinism. However, the analogy requires further modification to remain valid with respect to redemptive history if it is to be extended that way. Analogies are always risky because it's seldom if ever possible to make them completely valid in all possible respects. With that caveate in mind, it should run about thusly:

The ship's captain announces that the ship is entering deadly dangerous waters: "Everyone must remain on board. Even to touch the water is hazardous. Do not jump overboard! In the day that you jump into the water, you will surely die."

Thereupon, everyone on board, except for the captain and his beloved only son, rushes to the railing and flings himself over the edge into the water. All are soon dying. It happens that the captain's son has a remedy for the poisonous water. But to administer it, he must also jump into the water with the dying people. He cannot save others and himself at the same time. The only way to save the dying fools is to give up his own life in exchange for theirs.

He has enough of the remedy, and enough strength and wisdom, that he could save all the former passengers if he so chose. But why should he? The captain warned them. They deliberately disobeyed. By all rights, the captain and his son should sail on and forget them all. They deserve no better. But, in order to show both that they are kind and forgiving, and that they mean what they say, they decide to save some of them and allow the rest to suffer the fate they brought on themselves through unbelief, rebellion, and disobedience. The captain and his son sit down with the passenger log and select some names. Seemingly, they lean toward two classes of folks: those who lead the rebellion, and those who are most gullible. This way it is clear to all that the choice is made to show the captain's graciousness and sovereignty. He will not only succeed in rescuing them, but will afterward make them into faithful, world-class sailors.

The son leaps into the deadly water, suffering greatly to bring the remedy to the chosen. After saving the last of them, he himself dies.

Ever after, the rescued passengers-become-sailors remember the son with honor and reverence. Their love for him and for the captain is undying. Now, would it not be strange if, at every port, they told the story of how they reached out to the captain's son, allowing him to rescue them? Is it scandalous that the captain and his son were selective about whom they rescued? Can they be blamed for allowing some of the foolish rebels to perish?

10 March 2002
David J. Finnamore
Orlando, FL, USA