I’m looking forward to the Feast. I plan on doing some horseback riding session and a train ride, and I’m thinking Thursday might be a good day to do some cave exploring. You ever notice that where there are mountains, there are caves? Naturally, national parks spring up around these caves and other natural wonders.
Park Rangers often have to answer some pretty stupid questions from tourists. However, perhaps none are dumber than the ones asked about caves.
Here is a sampling:
- Was this cave manmade?
- So, where are the faces of the presidents?
- What time does the 2:00 bus leave?
- So what’s in the unexplored part of the cave?
- How much of the cave is underground?
- How many undiscovered caves are there?
- Does it ever rain in here?
And, my personal favorite:
- So, just what is this place? a hole in the ground?
~ Main source: “Stupid Questions?” joke, http://www.jokebuddha.com/joke/Stupid_Questions
A dark cave. Imagine 9 days in a cave, in the dark, with no food other than what you and your party brought along with you. You run out of water and must take a chance at drinking whatever is available in the cave. 9 long days without sunlight, without any natural light at all, and it soon becomes apparent that you have even lost track of time. You have not been even found yet, and you aren’t sure if anyone on the outside knows where you are. Now imagine that you are between 11 and 16 years old. When they finally do locate you, you are told it may be weeks or even months before you can be saved. How would you feel?
12 boys on a Thai soccer team had to endure just that fate. Their assistant coach, the only adult in the group, graciously gave up all of his food and water for you and your teammates. Now, you must subsist on the water that can be found in the cave until supplies can be somehow sent down to you.
Above ground, rumors abound. Some say that the coach should be brought out first, since he has sacrificed everything he had for the boys and may actually be the worst off. Some, like my brother-in-law, speculate that the parents will be so angry with the coach that they will want to exact revenge upon him. However, the coach sends up an apology to the parents, and the parents put together a message that he is forgiven and to not feel guilty for wanting to show the boys a good time. All the parents want is their children back home safe and sound.
Officially, the rescuers state that if they get 60% of the team out alive, it will be considered a success. Much less publicized, the Thai government will consider it a success if even one boy is rescued alive. Many believe it would be best to wait until the monsoon season is over, which means months of the team staying in the cave. However, it appears that the oxygen will not replenish itself over that span of time, and so the daring rescue effort begins.
Each boy was assigned a partner rescuer who would go with them as far as they could go to guide them to the rescue spot. Only one person at a time could fit through the opening. Each boy is told to be brave and swim to the surface.
Let me pause here to ask some important questions: Would it be cruel to suggest that by following these instructions the boys were trying to work for their salvation? If they were told instead that their rescue was a free gift and they did not have to do anything in order to be saved, how many would have made it out alive? And, what of the rumors and misinformation that abound? Could it be that Christian salvation is often clouded by misinformation?
I myself have often compared salvation to a person who fell overboard from a ship. Someone throws him a life-preserver. Should the person who fell overboard grab ahold of it? Does grabbing ahold of it earn their salvation? Of course not!
Yet, in speaking to many evangelicals and, unfortunately some people in the Church of God, over the years, I get the impression that they would claim that the Thai soccer team was trying to earn their salvation by following the guide and then swimming up to the surface. Not only is that ludicrous, but it is also cruel.
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation. So, in typical Thai style, 11 of the boys went into monkshood shortly after being rescued. The 12th boy is reportedly a Christian. Are the 11 boys trying to earn their salvation, or should we give them the benefit of the doubt that they are actually showing gratitude by becoming monks?
If the Christian boy decided to devote a period of time to his church, is he trying to pay for his rescue through good deeds? Would he be condemned for this? Why, then, when we try to keep even the least of the commandments, something Jesus obviously emphasized, are we criticized then?
It has always struck me as how cruel such theological attitudes really are, and I believe the miracle of these boys being rescued really points out how utterly foolish they are as well. It really becomes a variant of blaming the victim, and the reality is that we are all victims of a cruel being trying to deceive and destroy us.
Turn to Romans 6:23, a familiar verse, for sure, but it is good to refresh our memories from time to time. Even if it is a gift, then if we are humble, we will acknowledge that we can do nothing less than give back our all because we owe it all to our loving God Who rescues us.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
~ Ro 6:23
Should we concentrate only upon the “gift” part and ignore that we are being saved from sin and death? Should we not show gratitude for this?
Does being rescued mean that the boys should turn around and jump back into the cave? I think not. Yet, Paul makes it clear here that we are rescued from death caused by sin, just as the boys faced certain death caused by being trapped in the cave.
Logically, the opposite of sin is to do good works. Doing good works is not trying to earn salvation because we can never earn it, nor have we ever claimed thus.
How can we do less than give it our all, since everything we know and have and love now belong to our Savior?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
~ Mt 19:17
Jesus could have easily told the Jews that the commandments had been done away. Jesus could have easily have told them that there is nothing they needed to do for salvation.
How hypocritical is it to say you must not do anything after being saved from the jaws of death? What evangelical won’t tell you that you must at very least pray the so-called “sinner’s prayer” and accept Jesus into your heart? Isn’t that “doing something“? Don’t the churches of the world try to promote “good works”?
Yet, if we in the Church of God try to keep the commandments, somehow they view that as a different category. Yet, we just saw that Jesus said just the opposite!
What if the assistant coach next year took his team back to the caves during the monsoon season? What if he violated natural common sense and took them back? Would he still be forgiven by the parents? I think not. How cruel is it to say you are saved from sin but now you can go back and sin without penalty?
Furthermore, the attitude of why we keep the commandments are important. Ancient Israel, when they kept the commandments, did it out of duty. Christians need to serve out of gratitude.
This is made clear by the woman sinner who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:40-48, if you will turn there now. Simon, a Pharisee, judged Jesus in his heart.
However, Jesus had a response for him.
40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
~Lk 7:40-48 (NIV)
Jesus used the word “love” here, but it is obvious that it is a love driven by gratitude.
Jesus pulled no punches here. He did not condone the woman’s behavior, else why the need for forgiveness? Neither did He tolerate Simon’s self-righteous attitude.
Judgment is a two-edged sword. That is why there are so many warnings against it in the Bible. Used incorrectly, it hurts and can even maim the one wielding it.
And, let me make one more point in no uncertain terms: Condemning those who are already forgiven is displaying a self-righteous attitude. It is like condemning the gratitude and actions of the Thai soccer team, both during and after their rescue from a most certain death. Because, in the end, it is death we are all being saved from.