Faith as Rescue
JUNE 25, 2022
by Cameron Cole
When people think about faith in the Bible, many immediately associate the verse John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Very often people misunderstand “believing” in Christian salvation as our part of the bargain. Jesus did his part on the cross. We do our part by believing. It’s a partnership of sorts.
Certainly all sinners bear a responsibility to trust in the grace of Jesus for salvation, but if they conceive of faith as a joint venture, they misunderstand the nature of saving faith.
Faith in Christianity constitutes far more than “getting by with a little help from your friend (Jesus).” It’s more than “Jesus is my co-pilot.” It is actually an all-out, full-on, 100 percent rescue.
When I lay prostrate on the floor, the position of the speaker in Psalm 40 came to mind. He proclaims,
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog. (Ps. 40:1–2)
The speaker depicts his entrapment in misery. He resides in a nasty, dim place—a muddy bog. Imagine being knee deep in the mud of the swamps of Louisiana, amidst the putrid smell of stagnant water. Feel the discomfort of wet slime in your shoes. Everything around you looks the same.
Not only does the speaker dwell in a muddy swamp, this bog sits at the bottom of a “pit of destruction,” which some commentators describe as a place like hell. It’s as if he stands in a bog with tall, unscalable walls surrounding him. The image is clear—the speaker is trapped in darkness and misery.
He cannot escape.
The 1986 story of “Baby Jessica” captures the extent of our inability to escape. An eighteen-month-old baby named Jessica McClure fell twenty-two feet into a narrow well with casing only eighteen inches wide. Given the small width and great depth of the well, Jessica had no hope beyond extraordinary means for rescue. Furthermore, she was a baby—they could not throw her a rope and cry, “Just hold on tight while we pull!”
After the shock wears off and the Worst strikes, you may know the feeling of being stuck in a pit. Everyone falls to the bottom of the well like Baby Jessica.
Paralyzed by a feeling of despair, it is easy to feel incapable of climbing out of such a dark, emotional mire.
The speaker in Psalm 40 proclaims that God “drew me up from the pit, . . . out of the miry bog.” There was no climbing out of a muddy pit. There was no carrying on, as the band Fun suggests, “if you’re lost and all alone.” There was no “just press on,” as some well-meaning moron told me two days after my son, Cam, died. There was no tossing a life-rope or a ladder.
For Baby Jessica, dozens of engineers worked continuously over two days to form a tunnel. Then they traveled down and carried the helpless baby out.
That is also the image of God’s rescue in Psalm 40. God climbs into the mess, picks up the desperate soul, and carries him to solid ground.
My only hope was for God to scoop me into his arms and to lift me off the mat of misery. My only hope was the rescue of God. The true gospel informs a proper view of faith. God didn’t come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ because we needed a little help. He came because we, his people, were drowning in turbulent waters in our sin. Jesus collects us from a dismal condition. As any trained lifeguard will tell you, the natural reaction of those who are actively drowning is to fight off their rescuer. Lifeguards are trained to approach those at risk from behind, to prevent them from grabbing and forcing the lifeguard under water too. Faith—both in our initial salvation and in our deliverance from the pit of despair—involves a desperate cry to God to rescue us. It means fighting off the temptation to resist our Deliverer or to white-knuckle our way out.
The faith that enables you to stand up from the mat begins with relinquishing all hope of self-rescue and fully trusting Christ to pick you up.