You may have heard that I was caught in a rip tide during Carl’s senior trip. We were at St. Pete’s Beach in the Tampa-area, swimming and playing in the water not far from a fishing pier. Somehow, I was pulled into a riptide and quickly pulled out toward the Gulf. The shore quickly grew distant and my subpar swimming abilities were tellingly useless. A couple of fishermen told me I was caught in it and my best hope was to try and move parallel to the waves and angle for a point about a half-mile up from where I was. That was a painfully slow process, and the water kept taking me where it wished. I was on the other side of the pier, moving generally toward that point but still in the grips of the tide, when Dale swam out and helped pull me out of the current until I could finally get to shallower water and make my way back onto the beach. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I believe Dale saved my life.
Only after this did I learn that, according to the CDC, there was an annual average of 3,536 fatal, unintentional drownings in the United States from 2005 to 2014. That’s about ten deaths per day. Nearly 80% of all people who die from drowning are male. A lack of swimming ability is the greatest risk factor in drowning, and 57% of all people, age 15 and over, who drown do so in “natural water settings” (like the ocean)(cdc.gov). I also was reminded, from the Pandora playlist Dale piped through our van’s sound system, that he has an interesting sense of humor—playing “Under the Sea,” “The Ocean,” “High Tide, Low Tide,” “In Too Deep,” “Riptide,” “Drowing,” and “How To Save A Life” (plus a bunch more).
But I also have a different perspective toward some of the songs in our songbook:
- “Soul you are drifting along on the tide, out on life’s ocean so boundless and wide…”
- “Some poor fainting, struggle seaman, you may rescue, you may save…”
- “Throw out the lifeline, someone is drifting away…”
- “While on the sea hear the terrible roaring…”
As I look back, the currents were strong but the force was subtle. It did not take long for me to be moved away from the shore and taken away. Making the right efforts played a part in my staying afloat. Ultimately, however, I needed outside help to come back to shore.
The writer of Hebrews says, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (2:1). A.T. Robertson says of the word “drift”: “Here the metaphor is that ‘of being swept along past the sure anchorage which is within reach’ (Westcott), a vivid picture of peril for all” (342). BDAG says it is an imagery of flowing water and means “be washed away” or “drift away” (770). The Greek Old Testament uses the word in Proverbs 3:21, where Solomon urges his son to not let wisdom “vanish from [his] sight.” The epistle’s nautical metaphor pictures vividly what can happen in our spiritual lives. We can lose sight of where we are, and we may begin to struggle and start to succumb to the pull of the current. We must continue to make the effort to pull away and we should accept the attempts of those who seek to rescue us.
Spiritually, none of us want to become a casualty. We do not want to perish. May we realize that falling away from God is not usually sudden or dramatic. It is often subtle and gradual. Let’s pay much closer attention to what we have heard! It’s our lifeline.