As a kid growing up we had one of those large, rubber-walled above ground swimming pools in our back yard. The pool stood three feet tall and was about twenty feet across. My brother and I would spend hours each summer swimming and playing in the water under the warm California sun.
One of our favorite games was to play Sea Hunt. Sea Hunt was the weekly black and white television series starring Lloyd Bridges. Lloyd had a business of underwater work using SCUBA gear. He was always fighting bad guys and even had underwater knife fights. For hours my brother and I would pretend we had SCUBA tanks on as we fought each other underwater with pretend knives.
Long after my childhood underwater adventures ended, I still loved the thought of actually learning to SCUBA dive. At age twenty-two a friend of mine wanted to go to the Caribbean on a dive trip and asked if I wanted to join him. He was an accomplished diver. His only requirement was that I become a certified SCUBA diver before the trip. I agreed and signed up for the next available class. After weeks of intense training, I passed the course just days before our flight departed for the dive vacation.
Diving with tanks was an entirely new experience for me. I loved it. I could stay underwater for long periods of time exploring the beauty of this new liquid universe. On our dive vacation we dove for two weeks in the Bahamas, the Grand Cayman Islands and Jamaica. Our longest stay was in Montego Bay, Jamaica where we dove with the British Sub-Aqua Club.
After a week of our daily dives, I was becoming more and more comfortable. My friend asked our dive master if he would take us on a bounce dive. A bounce dive is where a diver goes down deeper than normal by bouncing down to a predetermined depth and then staging their ascent back to the surface by decompressing at various levels. This kind of dive is dangerous. We were told the week before two people had died trying a similar bounce dive in the same location, but without a dive master. I began to wonder about the wisdom of our decision.
Our dive master went through all the procedures we would need to know in order to make this kind of dive. We would carefully step our way down, keeping contact with each other. Just above our target depth we would gather and then make the bounce.
When I was trained to SCUBA dive I was instructed about something called nitrogen narcosis. It is referred to as the “rapture of the deep”. The deeper a diver goes the more they are overcome with a buzz similar to the effects of alcohol. In fact, one of the names for nitrogen narcosis is “The Martini Effect”. The narcosis takes place from breathing compressed gases while under increasing pressure. When under the influence of narcosis a diver loses his concentration and ability to focus. Unrestrained, nitrogen narcosis can kill.
At the edge of Montego Bay is a deep underwater shelf. It descends over 3,000 feet down to the ocean floor. The wall of this underwater shelf is an excellent reference point for this kind of dive.
Our instruction that day was to descend in stages to 180 feet and then hold up. From there we would bounce down together to our 200-foot goal and then come back up to the first of our decompression depths. At about 130 feet I began to feel really relaxed. I began to free fall in a state of bliss. I looked like a skydiver with arms and legs spread apart floating towards earth.
At 150 feet I was in full-blown narcosis. I was floating deeper and deeper into the abyss not caring one bit that I was heading towards the demise of the two divers who died the week before under a similar circumstance. What saved me was my dive master.
The dive master saw what was taking place and removed his knife and began to hit it against his air tank as he began to swim to my rescue. I thought, “What an annoying thing to do – he is disturbing my tranquility.” After a few moments of hearing this invasive metallic noise, I realized what was taking place and stopped just as the dive master grabbed my tank to halt my descent. Had I been alone I would have died. The rescue saved my life.
The apostle Paul talked of being rescued. He described to the Corinthian Church the trouble he experienced in the province of Asia. This trouble was so severe that Paul thought he was going to die. He recorded his thoughts in II Corinthians 2.
8 “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.”
Paul was in a situation where he needed a rescue. Statements like, “we thought we would never live through it” and “we expected to die”, are statements made by someone facing death.
In our lives this “end” is not always a physical death. It can be the death of a marriage; the death of a financial dream; the death of a friendship or the death of a ministry. As painful as these experiences can be, with God, it's never over until a resurrection takes place. God is our Eternal Dive-Master who always has a rescue plan to go into the depths of our experience to retrieve us.
As we struggle in a difficult place we begin to discover something positive is being offered to us. Paul said it so well in verse 9, “We stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.” As we move from self-reliance to relying only on God, a shift takes place. The shift is the repositioning of our trust from self to God. When this shift takes place a door is opened for something supernatural to enter our circumstance because natural systems of self-rescue are no longer able to save us.
The most impacting words Paul spoke in this discourse is the fragment of a sentence at the end of verse 9 – “who raises the dead”. Paul lived with the realization that no matter what would take place in Asia – even his physical death – he would experience a resurrection. Paul was a living billboard announcing the reality that with God it’s never over until a resurrection takes place. Paul had deposited all his hope in the resurrecting power of God. This fueled Paul’s faith and shaped his vision for life.
Two things happen to us when we begin to think like Paul:
We begin to see our future differently.
Paul said in verse 10, “And he will rescue us again”. Even in Paul’s darkest moment when he faced imminent death he was able to see ahead because the end was never what happened to him while he lived on earth. Paul knew God would be there like a rescuing dive master. If he met his “end” in Asia, it would never truly be his end.
We reposition our confidence.
Paul said, “We have placed our confidence in him”. Confidence is something we take hold of and place somewhere. Our ability to trust God is a deposit we make into him. This is a choice of our will. I must pick up my confidence and actually move it from me to God. Hope flows from where we have made the deposit of our trust. We can only walk in confidence if our trust is placed in God who is ultimately responsible for the outcome.
I often ask myself this question – “What is left of your abilities and resources to come to your rescue?” I ask myself this question because all too often I find myself holding back just enough of my abilities and resources to feel comfortable and still remain in control. This is a delusion much like a diver floating down into the depths under the influence of nitrogen narcosis. It may feel good, but you will eventually die under its influence.
One of the problems we have in Western culture is that we have so many layers of options that can insulate us from the real issues of life. We have so much that can come to our rescue. A full bank account, social rescue systems or a history of wise past decisions can all be part of the illusion. These can work for a while until we come face-to-face with the death of something. None of these layers contain resurrection power. The finality of death in a marriage or a life-dream is like a knife that penetrates these layers of false security. They are like the metallic sound of my dive masters knife penetrating the tranquility of my descent of death down the sea wall in Montego Bay.
God is a rescuer. He came to seek and save the lost. God will also ask us to work with him to come to the rescue of other people. Paul said in verse 11, “You are helping us by praying for us”. I can only imagine what Paul was going through in the province of Asia. In those dark moments of impending death it is reassuring to know that people are praying for you for the only hope you have left – that somehow God has a rescue plan. Knowing that we are not alone can make the journey less fearful.
Jan and I were invited to the home of a couple in our church. The dinner and conversation was wonderful. Towards the end of the evening this couple began to share how they prayed for our family and especially our children. Each family goes through challenging seasons and ours is no exception.
When this couple shared with us they were praying for our kids we were going through a particularly difficult time as parents. We were crying out to God. In the circumstance that concerned us the only resolution would take place if God showed up. He was our only remaining option. We had exhausted all other avenues. We left that evening filled with a renewed hope.
If you see someone caught in a free-falling death descent – how do you pray? Over the years I have come to pray for two things. First, I pray that Jesus would reveal himself to the person. The presence of the risen Christ in a place of death is supernaturally powerful and will silence the lies that death speaks. I also pray that there would be a resurrection. I ask God to raise dead ways of thinking. I ask him to raise hopeless people to a place of hope where they begin to rely on God for the outcome and not their own ability or resources. I also pray that they would begin to trust in the God, “who raises the dead”. For a believer there is always the hope of a resurrection coming to our rescue and that is where we should place our hope.