My buddy Ron and I decided to take my dad’s eighteen foot outboard boat out for a late afternoon shark fishing adventure. We were just out of high school and often took the boat out from Dana Point Harbor in Southern California near our hometown of San Clemente. Ron and I did a lot of fishing back then and still cast our rods when together after all these many years, mostly surf fishing now when I’m down visiting. On that September afternoon, we had a few hours of daylight left and our fishing spot was about seven miles straight out to sea where we might hope to draw in a nice mako or thresher sharks by chumming with some left over butchered fish remains we picked up from a harbor fish processor. We would simply put a chunk of fish on a big hook attached to a wire leader kept afloat by a balloon and let it drift about fifty yards from the boat following a chum line we’d hope would attract a shark.
Blue sharks, three to six feet in length, showed up but they were not suited for a gourmand. We caught a few and released them. It was getting late and we had about thirty minutes before sunset so we decided we should start heading back in before it got dark. The weather was warm and the sea fairly calm with a slight breeze.
As Ron and I were high tailing it back to the harbor having had no luck catching a mako or a thresher (it’s called fishing, not catching…right?) we were locked on to the horizon where we could barely see Dana Point. We were still about 5 miles out when something way to my right caught my eye. When you spend a lot of time on the ocean you develop this keen sense of visual awareness for anything happening on the water, mainly because you are always looking for some sign of activity that might lead to a school of top water game fish. This object appeared to be small and red. It is not uncommon to see celebration balloons that make their way over the ocean and land on the water. I thought it was likely some trash or a balloon. It was quite a distance away, maybe a half mile. I was about to forget about it as I kept my bead on the harbor thinking we don’t have a lot of time to fiddle fuddle. But I took another look and said, “What is that thing, Ron? Looks bigger than a balloon.” I decided to make a sharp turn and go check it out.
When the object came into a much closer view, we could see it was a very large red buoy about four feet in diameter, not a party balloon. As we slowed down and came within about twenty feet, we were shocked to see three men barely holding on to the buoy yelling for help. Whoa!! What the heck!? We came along side and hoisted each man aboard our boat. These men were fishing on a good-sized sword fishing boat and for some reason took on water and the boat sank within minutes. They had no life preservers. Nothing except this buoy used for tracking a swordfish once it was attached with a harpoon. The men were exhausted from being in the water for hours. We had no radio so we couldn’t call this in. Matter of fact, their boat sank so fast they never got off a May Day. No one knew about them. We were the last boat on the water as far as you could see with the sun setting. If we hadn’t satisfied our early evening curiosity, they would have spent the night on the water and drifted miles out to who knows where.
We made it back into the harbor as it was getting dark. There was no fanfare for the rescuers. No one was waiting for the men. No news trucks or family members or first responders. We simply made it to the dock at the boat ramp and let them off. They expressed their sincere gratitude and departed. End of story. Ron and I just looked at each and both said it at the same time, “Wow!” I remember how good it felt to have rescued these men. We didn’t expect anything in return. Saving these guys touched something deep inside us. There are very few things in life that are as satisfying as helping, even rescuing others from harm or distress. It’s a God thing.
In Christendom we focus a great deal of attention on the activity of saving the lost. We look at those whom we might deem “not Christian” and target them for salvation. Salvation from what? For many Christians who march in God’s army of soul saving soldiers it may be salvation from hell. But what if salvation is being rescued from a life that is adrift in the sea of no meaning or purpose in life? Being saved from the waves of self-destructive behavior that keep pounding against a soul? (you can call that “sin” if it makes you feel better) What if salvation is a soul being hoisted by the hand of God into the boat of God’s amazing love where Jesus is at the helm? I mean how many times did Jesus touch someone’s life who needed healing and simply stated, “Go, your faith has saved you?” Sometimes they came to him, other times he came to them in the midst of their troubles, whether self-imposed or imposed by life itself. Coming to God is being saved from a life without God. Jesus claimed, “The kingdom of God is here” meaning it is now, all around you. Join in!
I know some would rather lock on to the few times where Jesus said to some of those he touched, “Go and sin no more,” but we all know that what he meant was go live a life no longer a slave to the behavior that has imprisoned your soul and I will help you so that you can enjoy your life of love with God. No one ever has gone away from Jesus and never sinned again, right?
What does God want from us? What did Jesus really offer us or reveal? What does the Spirit of God actually do in our lives? Just as the Trinity itself generates a love that is beyond measure so too are we invited into that love, not only in relation to the Trinity but to each other. A life without love is hell. We all taste a bit of hell now and then when we dip back into the waters of promoting self over the love of others. As Paul wrote, you can surrender your body to the flames and exemplify a self-righteous life but if our lives are not immersed in the love of God, your life is nothing. The experience of nothingness is hell. Hell on earth for sure.
Jesus came to save the lost. To be rescued, your ship of selfishness, hard heartedness and self-destructive behavior must sink or at least take on enough water that you realize you are living without God. I’m not sure anyone can come to God without being shipwrecked. Being shipwrecked is not being overwhelmed with guilt and shame put on you by anyone else on earth, be it your family, your friends, your pastor, or your church. Being shipwrecked is a supernatural event where the Spirit of God does a work of setting you free from what keeps you captive to a life without the love of God. Ultimately, those who came to Jesus or those whom he came to, were seeking the way, the truth and the life of love which was completely embodied in the life, way and truth of Jesus.
Is it possible that God would rescue us from a life of nothingness and expect nothing in return? Could he simply delight in the rescue and healing of the human soul to the embrace his love, whether or not we master love in this life or not. Is it “saved to” or “saved from” for you?