Five people are trapped in a titanium tube on the floor of the Atlantic ocean, and I can’t get them off my mind. I am constantly checking my news feed. Sonar is picking up tapping sounds. Hope surges, then I read how unlikely it is that help could arrive in time.
In some real way I am inside that submersible, crouched in that cramped space. Perhaps it taps into some primal fear, but I strain to imagine what it must be like to sit there in the dark, at the bottom of the sea, knowing that without help you are doomed, having no idea if anyone is coming, knowing your oxygen supply is dwindling.
The rescue mission is, for me, the most powerful human story. The Pennsylvania miners trapped 68 days underground; the baby who fell down a well, stuck for 58 hours; Apollo 13. The world held its breath while these stories were told, hoping, praying for a miracle. We are riveted to rescue stories because every disaster, no matter to whom, no matter how far away, registers as personal. This, something like this, could happen to me, to my loved ones. We’re suddenly aware of two things—how tenuous this life is, and how dead we are without help.
Ultimately, stories of epic search and rescue speak to our souls. According to the Bible, the big, haunting, existential problem with humans is, we are “lost.” We’re in treacherous terrain, and we don’t know how to get home. You may be trapped at the bottom of a 750 ml bottle, lost in a wilderness of grief where all landmarks disappear, marooned on the isle of loneliness, or pinned helplessly beneath a massively false version of yourself. In biblical terms, you are lost, and one thing is sure: you can’t rescue yourself. You better hope and pray somebody comes for you.
There once was a little lamb who wandered off in the wilderness, where the wild beasts lurk. You know this one. The lamb doesn’t even know how lost it is. Has no idea if the shepherd even knows she’s missing. But the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and comes for the little lost one.
We read, keep reading that story to our children because we need to hear it. Especially when people get trapped in a mine shaft, fall down a well, sink to the bottom of the sea.
P.S. This song has been singing itself in my mind today as a prayer.
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep,
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea!