Monday, February 18, 2013

John Zahl: The Proper Response to a Rescue

This is such a helpful illustration from John Z. over at Mockingbird.

"Imagine that you are riding on the deck of a cruise liner in the middle of the night. Suddenly, you slip on the slick flooring and find yourself tumbling overboard, into the cold dark waters below. You begin to flail in the choppy sea, kicking and trying to scream for help. Unfortunately, you’re a poor swimmer and can barely keep your head above water, much less get your voice to project enough to be heard by the passengers and crew still on board. Miraculously, one of your shipmates spots you and yells to the captain, “Man overboard!” The crew makes the proper adjustments, and after not too long the ship pulls within reach of you. A life preserver ring attached to a rope is thrown from the deck, and it mercifully lands in front of you, just as your strength is failing.

You grab onto it with both arms, finding immediate relief in its buoyancy. The crew then draws the line into the boat and hoist you onto the deck where you lie, coughing the water out of your lungs, completely exhausted, befuddled, and grateful. The passengers and crew wrap you in blankets and carry you to the infirmary.

Imagine now that you finally have gotten your voice back. You motion that you wish to make a brief announcement to the onlookers. Here is what you say:
“Did you see how I grabbed onto that life preserver like an expert? Did you notice the strength of my biceps and the dexterity in my wrists? I was all over that thing!”
Would not the people hearing this think you had lost your mind? Your statement misses the entire thrust of what had just occurred, which was – pure and simple – a rescue. Would not gratitude and humility be a more fitting and natural response to the whole situation?

And yet, sadly enough, some form of the above tends to be our response to most of the good things that happen to us. Winners of poker games always believe they won by skill; losers tend to believe they were the victim of bad luck. Our careers, our children, our relationships: the human race has an incredible talent for focusing on its own role in the good things of life and minimizing its culpability in negative things. Religious people are not exempt from this phenomenon. In my experience, while Christians often talk loudly about God’s power and grace, their rhetoric just as often betrays a secret belief that their own initiative and willpower played the decisive role – 'did you see the way I grabbed onto that life preserver?'"


  1. What a perfect and fantastic analogy! This is right on. Even within the gospel believing community, there is this tendency to think, "I made this great insight or quote into grace!" In fact it is He who makes up insights into His grace and power and redemption, and it is He who died for us. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. I agree.

    Btw - congrats on your new book Jim.