The Thai Cave Rescue and Gospel Parallels

A dozen boys aged 11-16 trapped in a flooded mountain cave in northern Thailand with their football coach for over two weeks have all been rescued. As millions of people prayed and watched the media coverage, the thirteen have been saved at last, with the help of over a thousand multinational specialists.

The thirteen entered the cave on June 23 and were soon reported missing. Search and rescue teams sprang into action. They were found on July 2, and then elaborate rescue plans were put into place, including trial runs through the 4km flooded cave system. Flooding from monsoonal rains made it all very risky, and some wondered if the rescue should be put off until the rainy season subsided.

But the rescuers went ahead, and the world watched as four of the boys first emerged, followed by a very long interval, and then four more emerged, and then even later the rest were freed. So over a period of three days, they all eventually emerged, including the 25-year-old coach. The details of their lengthy ordeal are becoming well known, with numerous media sites giving us plenty of information on all this.

So I will not here rehearse all those intriguing details. But one part of the story does deserve some attention. While countless individuals from Thailand and overseas put in tremendous efforts and put their lives at risk to help the thirteen, one rescuer did not make it.

Some days ago one Thai diver gave his life in order to rescue those he likely had never met. As one news report put it:

Thai authorities say a former Navy SEAL working to rescue the boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave died from lack of oxygen. Petty Officer First Class Saman Kunan, a former member of Thailand’s elite Navy SEAL unit who was part of the rescue team in Chiang Rai, died on Thursday night after entering the cave to lay oxygen tanks along a potential exit route, the SEAL commander said.

SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew told a news conference on Friday morning the rescuer was working in a volunteer capacity and died during an overnight mission in which he was placing oxygen canisters. The ABC understands he was diving late at night to get to the chamber where the boys are trapped. Petty Officer Saman, 38, set out at 8:37pm local time to deliver three oxygen tanks from chamber three to where the boys and their coach are located.

He completed his task but on the way back lost consciousness. His diving partner performed CPR but was unable to revive him. Petty Officer Saman was brought to chamber three but was pronounced dead about 1:00am (local time) on Friday. He is one of about 80 Thai Navy SEALs. They make up the bulk of the divers that are running the rescue effort.

As mentioned, countless heroes were involved in this mammoth rescue effort, and many of them took great risks to rescue the thirteen. But sadly one man paid the ultimate price. This was a case of sacrificial love for other people. It is not an isolated event, as many have given their lives for the sake of others over the centuries, especially in times of war.

But it is a moving story. And the parallels with the biblical gospel message should be evident. The entire world is trapped in a hopeless situation. Death is imminent. It seems like there is no way out. The inhabitants of the cave could not save themselves, and all of us are in the same dire situation.

They needed help from without, and so do we. Our condition is terminal. Unless someone somehow sets us free from the bondage of sin, we are all doomed. We cannot make it out on our own. So God took the initiative, and sent his son to take our place, suffering the penalty for our sin.

He willingly took that upon himself, so that we could gain pardon and reconciliation with God if we come to him in faith and repentance. Just as one man died so that the thirteen could live, so one man died so that we all could live – if we avail ourselves of the divine rescue plan offered us.

As we read in Scripture, Jesus voluntarily offered himself a substitute for us, giving his own life so that we might find life. Consider a few key passages:

Mark 10:45 The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Romans 5:6-8 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 Corinthians 15:3 Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

Galatians 1:4 [Jesus] gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.

1 Timothy 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.

Jesus was born to die. He left the comforts of heaven knowing that the very people he came to love and serve would turn on him and kill him. He knew he would die, and that most folks would not appreciate what he did nor avail themselves of what he came to do.

Brave Saman Kunan gave his life as he sought to help others. But even he was not born to die. He did not come into the world knowing he was going to give his life. He eventually did know that his work as a SEAL was risky, and that death might come.

Jesus however knew that his mission was not only risky, but he knew that the cross was his determined end. He knew this not just while on earth, but in his pre-existent state as well. He knew all along that he had to pay the full price to secure the release of the captives.

Let’s pray for the family and friends of Saman Kunan. And pray for the thirteen as they recover and heal from all the trauma and grief they have been through. And pray for all those who do not yet know why Christ came and what he accomplished on their behalf. They are in dire need of the greatest rescue mission ever.

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14 Replies to “The Thai Cave Rescue and Gospel Parallels”

  1. I can not fathom such love. I believe it with all my heart, but I just can not imagine it or fully take it in. Thank you, Jesus!

  2. A very apt parallel… We have been trapped in the cave of our own sin and alienated from God. Only He can rescue us.

  3. Thank you Bill for making this connection between a real-life story that has no doubt gripped the attention of many around our world, and drawn out attention through it, to Jesus Christ and the meaning, need and application of His death and resurrection for us.

  4. Thanks Bill. I gave a message very similar to this on Sunday explaining how, in a very meaningful way, the thirteen represent the entire world. Trapped inside a dark box they are blind and unable to make sense of the world. Perched on a rock, the third rock from the sun, in the darkness they can only fumble around trying to figure out how they got there, what they are supposed to do, and where they are going. They can’t see outside the box and have no idea if anyone or anything is coming to help them to make sense of they’re existence. But of course, long before they even had these thoughts, people were searching and preparing and praying. Those brave SEALS.
    Finished work for the week, or dealing with family stuff or wherever… The phone rings to send them to Thailand. They are trained, prepared and drop everything at a moments notice to go to the aid of total strangers. Are we ready at a moments notice? Are we prepared with training, skills and experience? Do we have answers? 1 Peter 3:15 commands us to always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope that we have. Praise God that there are people who are ready, prepared and who go when called! Praise God that they have saved the thirteen. What will we now do with the focus and attention that this incident has generated? Will we retreat back into our world of mediocrity or will we maintain our vigil, candle burning, prepared and ready to go to anyone who has questions about life, the universe and everything?

  5. Dear Bill,
    It was indeed a selfless effort on the part of all those who took part in the rescue of the thirteen who were trapped in the cave all that time.They all put themselves in danger to get the boys out. It could have turned out to be a major tragedy but obviously God who oversees everything wanted these young boys to have another chance at life even whilst He called one of the rescuers to Himself. Sad though that was Salman will now be in that better place which Our Lord Jesus told us about. We should also thank God for the individual gifts with which He endows us all. God does not make rubbish and the special gifts which were needed for this rescue were televised world wide and obvious to all.

    I couldn’t help comparing this event with the death of David Goodall the scientist who went to Switzerland to take his own life featured on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent.It ended with the very apt phrase

    ‘David died as he had lived on his own terms’.

    Yet at the same time I couldn’t help but feel compassion and empathy for him because of his obvious fragility, frustration and loneliness brought about by his extreme old age. I am getting old myself and it is not very pleasant.

    If he had believed and had faith in a loving, merciful God [they never asked him that but it was obvious he didn’t] he would only have had to exercise a little more patience and offer his sufferings to God for the good of this broken world.Then a merciful God may have taken him peacefully in his sleep as a reward but he didn’t. He chose to act as a god. Sadly, this intelligent, gifted man chose to travel to Switzerland to take his own life in full view of the world’s media to promote a cause which he had always believed in – euthanasia which devalues human life, life which he had had the privilege to live to the fullest.

    As Tolstoy said “The most difficult thing; but an essential one; is to love life; even whilst one suffers; because life is all; life is God and to love life is to love God.”

  6. Powerful and moving, Bill. The most important news of all!
    Thank you.

  7. Thanks Bill.
    Praise God for answered prayer!
    Great news to see so many people around the world assist in the rescue effort and want to help complete strangers.
    And yes, it was very sad that one rescuer actually died for the cause. A very clear parallel to the Gospel of Jesus.
    As you stated: “Just as one man died so that the thirteen could live, so one man died so that we all could live – if we avail ourselves of the divine rescue plan offered us.”
    This is very true (and very non-Calvinist may I add).
    I am sure there will be a movie made about this.
    Kind regards, Kyle

  8. Hi Bill,
    Maybe my question is better for another occasion- your decision of course.
    The Mark 10:45 (et alia) issue always fights with me and I’ll keep it short as it’s slightly off topic:
    Jesus knew he would rise again. Does that make His gift of Himself less than it would be had He not known? I don’t think so but I’m awaiting further light.
    For instance, Abraham had foreknowledge that God had a merciful answer to his dilemma in that he said in Gen 22:5 “…..we will come back to you.” (see also 22:8) Did that make the sacrifice of Isaac any less?
    Again, I don’t think so: After the event God said to him in Gen 22:12 “… I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” It was no charade.
    I’d like to expose this more but as you can see I’m AFL for now. (Help!)
    Perhaps the SEAL also knew that he ‘could’ if not ‘would’ die. If he had no expectation of eternity, that would make his gift great indeed.

  9. Thanks Tony. I guess it depends on what you mean by “Does that make His gift of Himself less than it would be”. If you mean would it have been less painful, well I don’t think so. Most mothers know that at the end of their 9 months of travail there will be a new baby which will bring great joy. Knowing the good outcome does not detract from the pain they have to endure along the way. What Jesus went through in terms of suffering – including somehow being abandoned by the Father – was not lessened by the knowledge that he would rise again. In the same way we Christians know one day we will rise again – that does not make any suffering and hardship we now endure for Christ less difficult. But it is terrific to have that knowledge nonetheless.

  10. I strive and pray that I will be as appreciative as these boys to see the sun rise in the east each day.

  11. Great correlation! So glad you brought it out.

    I thank God for the miracle of their rescue, but I find myself praying ardently that God would rescue THEM in that far greater way from the penalty of sin by His Spirit, and place them on the narrow way leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ. It pains me that they would have been rescued for only the brevity of this life, just to face eternal death without Christ. I pray not one of those 13 would be lost! Please pray with me.

  12. Charmaine, during the rescue, as I drifted off to sleep one night, it occurred to me that the rescue process was much like a rebirthing process for the boys. I prayed, too, that each boy would be reborn in the knowledge of Christ, and I hope Christians everywhere will join in this prayer.

    I did not realize at the time of the rescue that the cave is known as the “Sleeping Lady.” Since that time, I have begun to read about that legend which says that the “Sleeping Lady” had been pregnant when she went to the cave to rest. I immediately compared the “Sleeping Lady” to the “sleeping church,” which awaits worldwide acceptance of Christ. I also remembered the pregnant woman in Revelation 12, with 12 stars in her crown. In this same scripture we see “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” This reminded me of the international community, perhaps representing the seven continents, coming together during the Thai rescue.

    I hope Bible scholars will use their gift to speak to us courageously in these times, and help prepare the world for end times, as well as for the here and now. One thing is certain, Christ taught us in parables and symbols, and we must meditate on His word day and night. At every turn, we see that His perfect and precise plan for every aspect of our lives reflects both his omniscience and his omnipotence. Indeed, He had provided everything that was needed for the rescue, long before the children even entered the cave.

    I might add that I believe the significance of the rescue is far greater than we might imagine. For example, I noted that the incident occurred during the time that many immigrant children in America were also lost and afraid. The broader mandate screamed loudly that all children should be loved and protected. Yet, many immigrant children in America have yet to be rejoined to their parents. Our prayers should extend to every one of those children, too. Thus, our role in the rescue mission is far from complete.

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