I’m playing a bit of catch-up, here, but…finally posting some reviews from last fall – just in time for Redbox release!
Of the three true stories out this fall, Woodlawn, My All American, and The 33, it was the latter which I was most excited to write about from a spiritual perspective. All three have great messages and provide opportunities to talk about spiritual matters (Woodlawn is certainly the most evangelistic). I think I was excited about this “review” the most because it provides such strong illustrations of Christian principles, but they are like Jesus’ parables…they’re there, but they need a little unpacking. (Whereas, the gospel message in Woodlawn is clearly presented and doesn’t require much commentary.) The 33 is the amazing true story of the rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped in a collapsed mine. The story itself, taken a face value, is a powerful story of rescue and humanity. However, if you take a minute to dig a little deeper (so to speak), you’ll find the story is like the mine it takes place in—a treasure trove of great riches.
The Overarching Story
The harsh reality is that every year 12,000 miners die in mining accidents. The work is dangerous, but in many places it’s the only real option if a man wants to feed his family. In this situation (as is probably true in many), the mine owners cut corners on safety measures to save a few bucks. This added to the probability of the mine collapse, as well increasing the problems of the men who were trapped and decreasing the likelihood of their rescue. Rescue wasn’t likely anyway, to be honest. As the foreman said, he’d seen five collapses and never once seen a rescue. Usually the mine owners would wait five days or so, then tell everyone there were no survivors and move on. Rescues were expensive and likely to fail anyway.
This time, however, the mine collapse got media attention and the government stepped in to help…and then the world. Thirty-three men survived the collapse and were, in the end, rescued.
Part of why this story resonates with us so is the sense of futility that is so predominant. Life is hard for the people. Options are few. They’re metaphorically trapped in many ways, long before they are literally trapped. Even the higher-ups have a sense of futility. They’ve seen death and collapses before….they’ve never seen a rescue. No one cares. So why should they?
Life is futile, and yet, this is a movie about hope breaking into the futility. It’s rescue and light and life and when people are trapped and darkness and death are all that’s available to them. They can’t do anything to save themselves, all they can do is keep from killing themselves quicker…with the slightest glimmer of hope that maybe, if they live long enough, someone will rescue them.
This is the Christian story. We are dead in our sins, trapped, with no way out, living in darkness. We can’t save ourselves; the best we can do is try not to kill ourselves, try not to make things worse for ourselves. But, in the midst of this hopelessness, darkness and futility, somewhere, somehow, there’s hope. We have this resilient hope that maybe a rescue is coming.
Rescue might not have come for the miners if it hadn’t been for a couple of people, Maria first and foremost. She was the estranged sister of a miner who fought like mad to ensure their rescue. She hounded the government; she challenged their conscience; she talked to the media; she rallied the forces of others who had loved ones in the mines. She was the squeaky wheel who got the grease. She was an intercessor. She may have been powerless to rescue them herself (in fact, her brother refused to even talk to her…that’s how powerless she was in every sense), but she had great power to move to others who did have the power to act.
It’s a sobering thought that rescue might not come for those who are lost in a spiritual sense if not for the fierce intercession of loved ones. You might be like Maria, powerless to do anything yourself. Maybe your loved ones won’t even speak to you. But never underestimate your power to move God on their behalf…and He CAN do something. There are several stories in the Bible of powerless but very squeaky wheels who moved God to act on someone else’s behalf. (One of my favorites is the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28.)
A political figure named Laurence got involved. He basically volunteered for this impossible task, knowing that it would be better for his career to steer clear of what could be a disaster, knowing he didn’t have to go there and get involved. He was asked, “You’ve never set foot in a mine, Laurence. What makes you think you can make a difference?” His response? “: I believe we have a responsibility [to our fellow man/the miners].” He went because it was the right thing to do, because he cared more for his fellow man than he did for his own comfort or reputation.
It was an uphill battle for Laurence, largely because people didn’t really want him there. The “experts” didn’t respect him and the people didn’t trust him, they’d gotten the government’s promises and lip service all before. But Laurence was different because Laurence wasn’t there because it was his job, he was there because he cared. He was passionate about saving those miners. Passion makes up for a lot of shortcomings.
He thought of ways to care for the miners’ families who were there night and day in wait. He even thought of a way to solve the problem of reaching the miners. His passion made him a quick study and gave him insight—but part of that because he was always looking for a solution, for a way to reach them. He never accepted what others had—that there was no hope. So often we find what we are looking for. The engineer told him that “there’s a less than 1% chance that we can find them,” and called it an “impossible situation.” Laurence was a man of faith that wasn’t defined and/or limited by possibilities and statistics. He replied, “Sometimes impossible situations take a little more time.”
When people are in need, we might be called to intercede from a distance, or we might be called to get personally involved in a real, messy, hands-on kind of way. In either scenario, it takes faith…and faith is marked by faithfulness. There’s no reason to keep on if you don’t have faith it will do any good in the first place. When we put our hope, not in statistics, not in “realities”, but in the God who is above all that, we can press on, looking for solutions, doing our best to help, knowing that sometimes, “impossible situations take a little more time.” Maybe we’ve never set foot in a mine ourselves, but that’s ok. We can still make a difference because we know a difference-maker. What God wants most from us is our hearts and our willingness to extend them towards those in need.
Then those men were trapped in darkness, the first sign of a rescue was what they heard. They heard sounds, echoes of hope, faint possibilities that a rescue was on its way. Then, there was a breach. A drill broke through the hard layers of ground surrounding them, protecting them. That opened up some relief. They weren’t alone. They were able to communicate with the outside world, with rescuers and loved ones. They received much needed food and supplies. Their situation had improved, to be sure, but they weren’t rescued yet, not completely. To be rescued, they couldn’t stay where they were, accepting handouts. They had to actually take a major step of faith and get in the specially made chamber that would bring them to the surface. When they got to the surface, it took some getting used to. Any time you spend that much time in darkness, it takes a while to adjust to the light, but the light is better.
The journey from darkness, captivity and sin into freedom, love and light is not so different for most of us. We’re trapped in darkness, but we hear echoes of hope. We don’t always know what it all means, but we hear tell of a savior and a life of freedom. All those echoes aren’t enough though, something has to pierce the hard shell around our heart that has both been protecting it and keeping it in darkness. That piercing is what lets in bits of light, it allows us to begin true dialogue with those who are reaching out to save us. We start to accept love and grace from them, we listen to their stories of Jesus, we get refreshment and the darkness isn’t so overwhelming anymore, because there’s hope. But that’s not enough. We still have to move beyond the darkness. We can’t just stay there forever, accepting love and grace from our place of darkness but never fully experiencing freedom and light. We can, but we shouldn’t. It doesn’t make any more sense than the miners staying in the mine forever. We have to take that step of faith and actually accept the rescue that is offered us through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. When we do, we are baptized into the light. Like the miners, it takes a little while to adjust to the light after living so long in the dark, but it comes, and there are loved ones already walking in the light ready to welcome us home and to help us adjust.
Only Hope—A Challenge
Laurence made the comment that there were “33 people under the ground. 300 [family members waiting]. We are their only hope.” It wasn’t just the 33 people that were depending on Laurence. Friends and family, future generations…and because of media and now a movie, the world… all of these people have been affected by his commitment to give all he had to save them. The ripple effects of his actions are staggering.
Rescue is hard. It’s back-breaking. It’s long. It often appears hopeless…and it’s often lonely. But in the end, when those people come out of the dark and into the light you hear them saying, “Thank you for not giving up on us. Thank you for not giving up on us.”
My question is, who do you know that needs rescuing? Who might say that you are their only hope? Those miners didn’t know Laurence, but he knew he was their only hope. There are missionaries who give their lives, knowing that those people they go to don’t know them, but they are their only hope. So, I ask again, who do you know, or NOT know, that needs rescuing? More importantly, who is God calling you to reach? Is it possible that God is calling you to find someone in their darkness, pierce through the hardness around them, and bring them to His light? If so, who is to say the staggering ripple effects that might have? Let us not miss such opportunities. Someday they will say to you, “Thank you for not giving up on us.”
Questions for Discussion:
- Have you ever felt lost? Like you were trapped and life and escape were really futile? Do you know others who feel this way?
- Maria’s passionate intercession played a huge role in her brother’s rescue. Have you ever struggled to communicate with a loved one? Have you ever interceded for someone, because that was “all you could do”? Does it feel like you are doing less because you’re praying and not out there “doing something”?
- Laurence knew the least about mining, but was probably the most responsible for their rescue. Have you ever felt called to get involved in something even if you didn’t know a thing about it and felt ill-equipped?
- Rescue is often a process. Have you ever seen anyone get half way rescued and think that was good enough because they were scared to go all the way? How sad would it have been if the miners would have decided life in the mine was good enough once they had contact with the outside world?
- How is bringing the miners to light a lot like bringing people to the light of Jesus?
- Whose rescue is God calling you to be passionate about and get involved in?