A Lifeguard Parable: Comparing Four Theologies

This is a modern parable of the different views of mankind and God’s salvation as expressed from four different theologies. The parables use the metaphor of a troubled swimmer in four different scenarios which then demands four different responses from the Lifeguard.  I originally wrote this for a Bible study in my local church.  Though this parable has its limitations, we still had an extremely fun time working with it and I hope you do too.  So what do you think?  I would love to hear your thoughts!  What theologies are represented here?

Lifeguard: Great Example
There was a swimmer in a lake a mile from land. While treading water the swimmer noticed that the water posed a threat. The lake was deep and dark. As a result the swimmer thought of the Lifeguard, who sat a mile away on the beach of safety. The swimmer thought, “What would the Lifeguard do?” Being inspired by the great example of the Lifeguard; the swimmer began to replicate the swimming techniques that had been previously demonstrated. In the swimming journey back to the shore of safety, the swimmer felt appreciation towards the Lifeguard because He was a Great Example in a time of need. The swimmer continued to diligently mimic the Lifeguard’s swimming technique all the way to the shore where the swimmer would eventually be removed from the deep and dark waters of danger.

Lifeguard: Helper
There was a swimmer in a lake a mile from land. While treading water the swimmer noticed that the water posed a great threat. The lake was deep, dark and full of weeds. In fact, the weeds were so thick that if trapped in the weeds they would most definitely pull the best of swimmers under. As a result the swimmer thought of the Lifeguard, who sat a mile away on the beach of safety. The swimmer thought, “I better take the initiative and call for help. The Lifeguard will be able to help me through this weed infested water!” With a great amount of force the swimmer yelled out to the Lifeguard for help. Within minutes the Lifeguard was there at the side of the swimmer. The Lifeguard looked at the swimmer and said, “Don’t worry my friend, just swim with me and I will help you maneuver around the weeds to safety!” In the swimming journey back to shore, the swimmer felt lucky and continually thanked the Lifeguard because He was a Helper in a time of need. Both the swimmer and Lifeguard continued to vigorously swim together all the way to the shore where the swimmer would eventually be removed from the deep, dark and weedy waters of danger.

Lifeguard: Rescuer
There was a swimmer in a lake a mile from land. While treading water the swimmer began to have a leg cramp; a leg cramp that posed an incredible threat. In fact, the leg cramp became so bad that the swimmer started to drown. The swimmer started to gulp up water, splash violently and the weight of the water began to press in. As a result the Lifeguard, who sat a mile away on the beach of safety, saw the swimmer’s distress. The Lifeguard yelled out, “I will not abandon you… I am coming to rescue you!” Within minutes the Lifeguard was there and He cast out a life preserver to the swimmer. The Lifeguard looked at the swimmer and said, “Trust me my friend… reach out and grab a hold of the life preserver!” The sight of the Lifeguard and the sound of His voice granted the swimmer the confidence to reach out and grab a hold of the life preserver even though there was chaos, a leg cramp and a hopeless situation of drowning. While the swimmer held tightly to the life preserver and kicked from time to time towards land; the Lifeguard pulled the swimmer through the water. On the journey back towards the beach of safety the swimmer felt grateful, comforted and continually spoke forth praises because the Lifeguard was a Rescuer in a time of need. The Lifeguard continued to pull the swimmer, who was holding on to the life preserver, all the way to the shore where the swimmer would eventually be removed from the threat of a leg cramp, a hopeless drowning situation and the deep, dark and weedy waters of danger.

Lifeguard: Life-Giver
There was a swimmer in a lake a mile from land. The swimmer had drowned. A body laid motionless, dead and saturated with water at the bottom of the deep, dark and weedy water. The swimmer was devastated and hopeless to say the least. As a result the Lifeguard, who sat a mile away on the beach of safety, took notice that one of His swimmers was not in sight. The Lifeguard made His hand into a fist and said, “I am not willing for any of my swimmers to perish… I will go out and find my swimmer!” Within minutes the Lifeguard found the swimmer. The swimmer was at the bottom of the lake ensnared by the weeds; dead and motionless. The Lifeguard looked at the swimmer and said, “I must descend to the depths of this lake, grab a hold of this dead body and give CPR!” The Lifeguard then dove into the depths of the water, fought His way through the weeds, grabbed a hold of the dead body and began to bring the body out of the depths of the deep water to the surface. Due to the swimmers lungs being filled with water, it was as if the body resisted being brought forth from the depth of the water.  Once on the surface of the water, the Lifeguard performed CPR upon the swimmer. The breath of the Lifeguard drove out the water and filled the swimmer’s lungs with refreshing air. The pulsating pumping of the Lifeguard’s hands upon the swimmer’s heart, firmly but gently, revived the swimmer’s heart. All of a sudden life came out of this motionless, dead and water saturated body. While the swimmer was shocked, disoriented and powerless, the Lifeguard tightly placed His arm around the swimmer’s chest and pulled the swimmer through the water towards the shore of safety. While being pulled through the water by the Lifeguard, the swimmer felt secure, became overwhelmed with the gift of life and continually wept with praises because the Lifeguard was a Life-giver in a time of need. The Lifeguard continued to pull the powerless swimmer all the way to the shore where the swimmer would eventually be removed from the threat of death, drowning and the deep, dark and weedy waters of danger.

Questions on the Four Parables:

1) What was the main threat in each of the parables? (i.e. water, seaweed, the swimmer)

2) What were the response and role of the swimmer in each of parable?

3) What was the response and role of the Lifeguard in each parable?

4) Who was the hero in each of the parables?

5) Who did the majority of the work: in solving the threat; in the journey from the threat to the shore of safety in each of the parables?

6) After the initial threat was dealt with, how did the swimmer view the Lifeguard in each of the parables?

7) Expound on the meaning of each parable in relationship to us, our world, our sin and our relationship with Christ. Who represents the swimmer, the Lifeguard? What does the water and seaweed represent?  Compare and contrast each of the parables in connection to your knowledge of the theologies of church history and scripture.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

A Lifeguard Parable: Comparing Four Theologies — 3 Comments

  1. Fifth Parable
    Over the years there grew a group of swimmers in this particular lake who were themselves trained by Olympic swimmers in idealistic conditions. They were all told implicitly that while they may perceive of themselves as stronger swimmers, there was only one lifeguard capable of saving the drowning.

    Yet these swimmers took it upon themselves to try to invent new methods to save the drowning instead of pointing everyone to the one perfect lifeguard. Some trained swimmers began to think that it was their duty to equip other swimmers to swim. So these trained swimmers and the small groups of swimmers they trained set out into the lake to keep everyone safe. And they did at times mention that the one lifeguard never failed to save lost or drowning swimmers. But no matter how hard these small groups tried, people slipped through and drowned. They tried adding to the lifeguards methods, they tried to wear the same clothes as the lifeguard. They tried to tell everyone that raising their hands and smiling at each other would keep them from drowning. They tried to tell others that what they would eat would keep them from drowning. They even went ashore and tried to take their small groups to the food shack far from the beach and sat down and had coffee with potential swimmers, before they had even heard of the lifeguard.

    Learned swimmers set up certain swimmers to cover different areas of the lake, but each of these Area Supervisors added fees to the lower level swimmers, and then distributed back that money to the swimmers who had helped them become supervisors.

    There were, though, a few faithful swimmers who only pointed to the lifeguard as the only one who could help. But the Area Supervisors would not let these kind of swimmers speak, or even transfer out of there area if they had not helped them, nor would the Area Supervisors listen to their cries for help. Some of these faithful swimmers felt betrayed and when in trouble were left to drown. The Area Supervisors pointed to these swimmers as misdirected fund sucking malintents.

    So the moral of this “Fractured Fairy Tale – ala Aesop & Son” (See Rocky & Bullwinkle)is…the name of the lake is

    Looting Can – Make Supervisors
    or
    money and power can make supervisors Bishoprics

  2. Let’s see how well I’ve learned. Correct me if I’m wrong, but:
    Example = Liberalism/Fundamentalism with Jesus as the moral example/second Moses [lawgiver], Helper = Roman Catholicism/Wesleyanism where we synergistically cooperate with God’s grace, Rescuer = Pietism/Revivalism with it’s insistence on the choice of the rescued, and Life-Giver = monergism generally, where all the work from beginning to end is done by the lifeguard. Did I pass?

  3. The key detail I noticed was the difference in the true conditions of the 4 swimmers. I.e., what’s your anthropology? What anthropology does the Bible teach? The true situation of the swimmer/sinner demonstrates, and one might say determines, the sort of “Lifeguard”/Savior he needs. And the anthropology of the Scriptures is clear. “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.”

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