My latest article from the Bennington Banner: https://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/a-special-kind-of-hope,544741?
Like many others, I spent much of the last three weeks in a mixture of hope and prayer for the Thai soccer team who were trapped in a cave with the water rising. The story gripped the world: the terrifying loss, the desperate search, the impossible task, the daring rescue. This Tuesday, nearly three weeks after the team and its assistant coach went missing, the rescue operation was complete. One Thai Navy SEAL gave his life in the rescue effort, and the world honors his sacrifice. The team, its coach, and the rest of the rescue personnel made it out. They’re hospitalized, to be sure; a few of the children have lung infections, but they’re alive, and they are in the care of doctors, and their parents and loved ones are nearby, if not in their arms.
It’s a happy ending, and thank God for that. Those children and their coach were in that cave for eighteen days. From the day they went missing until the last one was saved: eighteen terrible days.
But from the day they went missing until they day they were discovered… that was nine days.
That means for nine days those twelve boys and their coach were alone in the darkness, lost, without any communication with the outside world, as the waters rose around them. They were nine days without food or fresh water. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be, knowing their only course was to sit in the darkness and do nothing but hope, even though they might have had no reason to hope.
The ending may be a happy one, but it’s remarkable that they made it to the ending at all.
I wouldn’t assume they were people of one faith or another, or even of any faith at all. I wouldn’t ascribe to them attributes of my Christian faith. Nor would I insist that their experience was one that should require of them that they begin to understand God in the same way that I do. My point isn’t to demand of them, or of you, reader, that this profound drama forces the discovery of a faith that may or may not have been in the hearts of those who were lost, or those who eventually found them again.
No, I simply want to make an observation: that special kind of hope, the hope against all hope, the hope that overrides all logic and reason, the hope that stands against the darkness and the hunger and the thirst and the loneliness and the fear, is the hope into which God invites each one of us.
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” [Isaiah 43:1–4]
I pray that the trials we experience in our lives are not so traumatic, nor the waters through which we must pass quite so literal, as those through which these young men have so recently passed. But our trials will come, in some form or fashion. We will all find ourselves in the direst, most desperate need, at times in our lives. We will go days, maybe not without literal food and fresh water, but perhaps without the food and fresh water of the soul that restore us emotionally and spiritually and equip us to face the world.
We will be lost, and uncertain, and afraid, and all will seem dark and hopeless.
And yet it is in those very places that God finds us. In our darkest and most desperate hours, when we feel completely isolated and out of touch, the Spirit speaks into our desperation, reminding us once again of God’s invitation:
“do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” [Isaiah 41:10]
May God’s love continue to uphold each one of us, and may God’s healing spirit be with those courageous young men who somehow found the hope to make it through.
Rev. Stephen Dale is a pastor of the United Methodist Church who has been appointed to Bennington to start a new community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (802) 440-0217, or at http://www.revanchorman.org.