The Parable of the Drowning Man

Visitor: There is no merit in a person reaching out his hand to God, no more than a drowning child reaching out his hand to a parent's hand in a boat.

Response: Here are a few things I like to say in response to this:

If you liken the sinner to a drowning man reaching out his hand to God and claim that this needs no merit from which to boast, consider this: There is no real parallel between a drowning person and someone who is willfully blind and captive to sin. This is a false analogy. To draw this comparison is to radically redefine our condition before God and change the nature of our problem. While our problem is indeed life threatening, but this is where the analogy completely ends. Those who are "drowning" are there because they love it and will for nothing else (John 3:19, 20).

Because of this here are a few of issues to consider:

1) You appear to assume from this analogy that the drowning man (the sinner) believes he is drowning (i.e.. believes he is a sinner) and is actually humble enough to recognize his own plight. Where did he get the wisdom and humility to know he was drowning (was a sinner)? Are there any sinners who are naturally willing to receive the humbling terms of the gospel? Isn't it grace itself that makes us humble enough to see our own spiritual bankruptcy? Isn't it grace that makes us recognize we need Christ to save us in the first place? So then, do you believe that some are saved and not others is because some are more humble and wise by nature? Do they naturally recognize their wretched condition and need for Christ, apart from grace? If you say grace caused it in that person, then, I ask, why are not all saved if grace is extended to all?  Why did one sinner have enough good sense to believe and not another?  It wasn't grace since, in that view both had grace... so it was something proceeding from one person, something that the neighbor did not have.

2) Further, your "drowning man" analogy, is problematic for the following reason. What kind of parent would merely reach out His hand to save his child who was drowning and not offer further help if the child could not reach far enough out to him? What kind of love is that? Your parent analogy sees his child in a life-threatening situation and will only save him on condition that he is a good enough swimmer through waves so as to reach out and take hold of the Father. Will the Father do nothing more for his own child? Will he not risk his life to actually MAKE SURE that the son does not drown, if he is unable or unwilling to reach out? Such is not love at all that does not act because it is an unwilling and ineffectual love. His love depends entirely on how the child's response.  This means his love is conditional. Frankly, most people understand that the true love of a parent would "violate" their sons will if it meant it would save a child from drowning - because the parent knows better than the child what is good for him. His love is not weak-willed or ineffectual but he loves his children with a resolute will that gets accomplishes what His love dictates by actually saving his child, even by forfeiting his own life in the process. Again, is a father who MERELY reaches out his hand and does nothing more a loving father to that child in any sense of the word? There is no definition I know of that would classify that parent as loving who leaves his child to drown if he did not meet the condition.

3) What about those people God did not save?, Jonathan Edwards once wisely said, "If damnation be justice, then mercy may choose its own object." By using "drowning in a lake" as an analogy, you are making it sound like our condition before God is innocuous. That mercy is something that is expected, or even demanded from God for every man. This logical fallacy is called an "appeal to pity" (ad misercordiam). Perhaps if our problem were only of a physical disability or of an innocent man drowning then of course we might be more inclined to make God out to be an ogre if He chose not to save him. But this is not how the Scripture describes the disposition of a sinner's heart. The Scripture says the unregenerate are rebels, hostile to God by nature (Rom 8:7) and willfully blind. Realizing that analogies are imperfect, this drowning analogy still depends on pity for it to work at all but is actually imposing an alien presupposition on the Scripture that we were just helplessly, innocently in need and God is, therefore, obligated to reach out to save us, lest we drown. So according to this analogy the one condition we must meet if God is to love us is to reach out and take hold of His hand which He is also obligated to extend.

I hope you see the clear problem with this reasoning. God is in no way obligated to to cancel anyone's debt, but because He is loving and merciful He paid the debt for those He came to save - his sheep, the children of promise (John 10:11) and applied it to them according to His sovereign good pleasure (Eph 1:4, 5). To those who are his children, He will do whatever it takes to make sure they are delivered from the jaws of death. if you are a Christian then you believe some get mercy and others get justice but no one gets injustice.

Lastly I wish to point out that we have two radically differing views of what the Bible teaches about the nature of grace:

1) to you perhaps the greatest blessing of God is his gift of a free will.

2) In the Bible the greatest judgment of God is to leave people to their own boasted free will - for unless God delivers man from himself, his willful blindness and love of darkness, none would ever benefit themselves by following Christ into the light. Or to use the analogy, none would ever reach out their hand to God for they are dead to Spiritual things (Eph 2:1; 1 Cor 2:14; John 6:65)

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