Based on the true story of what has been called the “greatest small boat rescue in history,” The Finest Hours is an amazing story of character, determination and sacrifice. On February 18, 1952, two tankers were split in half by storms. One managed to get off a signal, so all help was allocated to its side, while the other tanker fought to survive long enough for radar signals to spot it, and rescue to come. A small crew of four men, led by Bernie Webber, went out on what most considered a suicide mission to rescue any survivors on the tanker. If you look no further than the fact that those four men were willing to lay down their lives for another, you would have plenty to connect to Jesus’ teachings, but there is also much more.
Cut the Lifeboats
There are really two stories here. One is the story of Bernie and the rescuers trying to reach the wreck. The other is the story of the men on the wreck and their struggle to decide the best course of action. There are two leaders on board the tanker, at odds with each other about what to do. Brown wanted to try their luck with the lifeboat. Sybert disagreed. He was convinced the lifeboat was too small for the rough seas and would be sunk or smashed, probably before it even managed to get away from the tanker. He thought it better to stay with the tanker and try to run it to ground and wait for a rescue. Of course, that’s iffy—it assumes a rescue is coming, for one thing. But he was convinced it was only hope.
In fact, he was SO convinced it was the only way that he went out and cut the ropes and released the lifeboats. The men were furious. In their mind, he’d just cut off their escape, their hope. It wasn’t long, however, a matter of seconds, before the boats were smashed to pieces by a wave against the tanker. Then the truth sunk in, Sybert had just saved their lives. Those “lifeboats” would have meant certain death. Fortunately, after the lifeboats were gone, the men had no choice but to turn their energies into Sybert’s plan and they all worked together on plan B, hoping he was right.
The Bible says that “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Sometimes someone—a parent, a loved one, a mentor…—sees that we are determined to get in what we think is a lifeboat, and knows that it will destroy us…and they cut the boat. Sometimes, God does it Himself. And oh, we get so angry! Someone just cut off our escape, our hope, our chance at life. The problem is, we don’t always have the benefit of seeing that lifeboat smash to pieces seconds after it’s taken away from us, so we stay mad. We keep blaming the powers that be, whoever it was that we blamed for taking away our lifeboat, and instead of moving on and focusing on the other options available to us, we wallow. If only we could see what we’d been saved from. We think God is out for our harm, little realizing He’s only trying to save us from a faulty lifeboat.
The only real lifeboat available to us, the only solid escape route, the only real hope—it’s found in Jesus. We cannot save ourselves, we need a rescue. And we’re given a promise, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Essentially, Jesus is telling us that if we’ll put our faith in HIS rescue plan (aka seek God first and foremost), then everything else we need will come. Isaiah echoed similar thoughts.
Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.
8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55: 6-9)
What’s a Life Worth?
When it was obvious that there was a problem at sea, and a possibility that men may need rescuing, a variety of responses popped up. Some said there couldn’t be survivors, so why risk more lives. Others said it was just too dangerous, better to wait for a better time. They valued lives, but they valued the lives of their friends and family more than those strangers. The boss on the other hand, sent men out seemingly without thinking. He valued the lives of the strangers more than his own crew, so it would seem.
There were several old seamen who told Bernie he should obey orders, go out into the harbor, but “get lost.” He should pretend he’d done his best, but not risk it by going into the open seas, for that was surely suicide. Bernie, was a man of character, however, and vowed to give it his best.
He didn’t force anyone to go with him. In fact, he forced his best friend (who was very sick) to stay behind. He asked for volunteers. Two men volunteered, but they were still short one and no one else from their crew wanted to go. A man was there, however, a caretaker for a lighthouse, taking refuge till the storm passed. He didn’t know anyone there. He had no real experience, certainly nothing to qualify him for this kind of mission (he’d only patched paint and cooked meals for crew), but he volunteered. “Somebody gotta go out and save those guys, right? …That’s why I signed up.” Reminds me of that old saying, “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”
There were other men who were offered the chance to go, but it was these men, these four who volunteered, who received the glory. They were willing to lay their lives down for even the thought that men might be alive and needing a rescue. It wasn’t even a given that they’d even find anyone. In the end, 32 men were rescued. Can you imagine how those four men felt about risking their lives when they got there and discovered just how many men were there, waiting on a rescue?
When we, as Christians, here that there are problems, people who may be in need of a rescue, whether it be spiritual or physical or emotional, a variety of responses pop up. To simplify, let’s just say we hear of a people group in Africa that has never heard of Jesus (although we could substitute any number of scenarios). Sometimes we assume that they wouldn’t be interested anyway. They’d probably say no, so why bother. Others think that it’s too dangerous—going to Africa poses any number of risks and dangers, war, malaria, hostility to foreigners, etc. Some suggest it would be better to wait until the political climate settles down, or the risks abate. It’s not that they don’t care about those people, but they care about the lives of their own folks more. On the other extreme, you have some people who are so determined to do their job to send a rescue to those foreign peoples and/or so passionate about their need that they push and demand people go, it would seem unfeelingly.
The real heroes are those who follow Jesus. For some that may mean staying put and manning the home front, for other it will mean risking everything to volunteer to go themselves, qualified or not. These people are missionaries, whether they are going to Africa, or following God’s leading to rescue a neighbor in need. People who get into the fray and sacrifice their own comfort and maybe even lives for their fellow man. They don’t pretend to go. They don’t “get lost”. They go all in. They know that, as the Coast Guard mantra says, “You have to go, you don’t have to come back.” Because every life is worth it. Jesus died for even one. He gave his life that we might live, because that’s the value of a life.
On a side note, as I sat there, watching those men on the tanker knowing they would die unless someone came, desperate for hope, I couldn’t help but think about how many people are out there in the world, knowing they are dying. Desperate for good news, knowing they need a savior, but not knowing if one will come. What relief when good news finally comes! Can you imagine what it must feel like to hear about the hope of Jesus and salvation for the first time when you have spent your life in hopelessness? Know that anytime you bring someone to Jesus, the rescue is no less glorious than this one in The Finest Hours.
Follow the Lights
Bernie and his crew miraculously found the boat in time and rescued 32 men (on a boat which had a capacity of 20-22). It was a little bit of a case of going from the frying pan to the fryer, though. Bernie had lost his compass along the way. Sybert asked him, “Can you get us back?” Bernie, ever humble, was honest. “To be honest with you, I don’t know.” Here all these men had put their faith in him, and he himself was lost and in need of a rescue. Not to mention, he was exhausted, and near frozen. All he knew was that on the way out, the wind had been on his right, so he figured he would put the wind at his left and follow the lights on the shore. He knew they just needed land, even if it wasn’t the exact place he’d pulled out of, any harbor would do.
The problem was the lights. What he didn’t know was that the storm had taken out the power. There were no lights on the shore.
He was able to radio the shore and tell them the men were rescued, so the town at least knew to be looking for them to come home. They were sea people and they knew the crew would need help when they got in. They knew they would need warmth, food, rest, medical attention. So they went to the harbor to watch and wait. And they realized the boat would need lights, so they all turned on their head lights on their cars. When the lights went out, they became the lights for each other…and they saved the rescuers.
This is a beautiful example of what the church should be, how it should function. For some reason though, in the church, it’s tempting to think at times that people out doing mission work, helping others, are fine, that they are somehow superhuman and can handle doing all that rescuing and saving without succumbing to the elements—things like exhaustion, depression, illness, financial need, marriage struggles, etc. Sometimes mission workers, missionaries, pastors, teachers… even lay people who just find themselves volunteering to get on the boat and go rescue those in need… those people are also just people and sometimes they lose themselves in the midst of saving others. They lose their compass. They’re so exhausted they don’t know if they will make it. They’re emotions get frozen, and they don’t know if they can get themselves back to safety, much less the others who are all depending on them.
They’ve lost their compass, but they still have a few foundational truths. The Bible is true, for example. So they plod along, half dead, telling everyone to keep going and look for the lights. Follow the lights. Follow the lights. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The thing is, sometimes things look really dark. Sometimes Jesus’ light is obscured and we can’t see it, for some reason or other. THIS is where the church comes in. The church is supposed to carry Jesus’ light to the world, and that starts with carrying it to each other when things go dark. Just like that town, it is so important that we recognize when our rescuers, mission workers, pastors, etc., need help and rescuing themselves. We need to go looking for them, seeking ways to minister to their needs. We need to be prepared to take care of their bodies and souls. We need to realize they are human and the rescuing takes a toll on them as well, and if they are going to be able to go out and do it again, they’re going to need to be restored. And while we’re looking for them, preparing to minister to them, we need to recognize how much they may need US to be the light for them, that maybe we are the only bit of Jesus’ light they are able to see at times.
It’s in this way that we are to be the church. Not only saving the world, but also saving each other. Using our various giftings to serve both the lost and the found, knowing that both may be equally in need.
Questions for Discussion:
- Have you ever had your “lifeboat” cut? What happened?
- Have you ever had to intervene and cut someone else’s “lifeboat” knowing that it was the only way to save them?
- When you feel like God is cutting off your “lifeboat,” how might seeing this movie change your response to what He’s doing in your life?
- What “lifeboats” are in your life? What do you put your hope in?
- Why does God want to be your only hope, your only “lifeboat”?
- Do you think it was worth the lives of four men when they didn’t even know if there were any men to save on that tanker in the first place? How much is a life worth?
- What role did the townspeople play in helping save the rescue boat?
- Do you ever assume that pastors and missionaries, parents, people who rescue others… are “fine” and don’t need rescuing themselves?
- Have you ever been in a position like Bernie’s, where people were counting on you, but you felt lost and in need of rescuing yourself?
- Has anyone ever been the light for you when all other lights were dark?
- Who do you know that might be like Bernie, a rescuer in need of some relief, help…care in various areas? And what can you do to help?