The Lifeboat Theory says; “If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbage man, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?” Since the 1970’s this question has been presented to students ranging from elementary school through university levels, we’ve all heard a version of it before. However, Donald Miller, in his book Searching for God Knows What presents a keenly insightful examination of this question.
In his book, Miller says that we humans naturally place values on others because from birth we are compared against others to gage our health, intelligence, aptitudes, basically how well we are doing. At birth we measure health by using the APGAR test, then it’s the developmental charts, academic achievement, athletic achievement, artistic achievement, and of course looks; “what a pretty baby.” Throughout our lives comparing and value placing is part of our daily existence so, when the Lifeboat Questions is posed most of us don’t say, “Wait, this is wrong because all people are equal.” Instead we immediately start comparing the value of each person, struggle a bit, and then come up with an answer.
Think about it for a minute, how do you know if you’re fat or thin, successful or not, smart or not, pretty or ugly, in style or out, popular or not, liked or not? The answer is, we compare ourselves to others. I’m not saying it’s wrong to compare ourselves with others, in fact a certain amount is necessary. However, if our value is placed wholly on the results of comparison with others we will feel that our personal value is unstable and at risk of being taken away daily.
Now, here is Miller’s main assertion in a nut shell. Humans were created with an innate need to have a relationship with God. Through this relationship God imparts his unconditional, unchanging, love to all people equally. This relationship is not based on ever changing value through comparison, but is based on acceptance and love; God’s stable, unchanging love. God doesn’t have a comparison scale.
When people are not in relationship with God they will seek other ways to fill this innate relational need. In seeking to fill this need we try to create personal value through social status, material possessions, education, friendships, peer recognition, etc., we will seek to fill God’s place with anything in an attempt to prove our value. This searching for value in things other than God is like being on the lifeboat, if we can’t verify our value with others we will live in fear of being thrown off the lifeboat.
Miller also points out that because Jesus loves and values all people the equally, The Lifeboat theory could not exist in His world, it is impossible for one person to have greater value than another to God. This concept is foreign to us because we are constantly seeking value by comparison. But, our value, our true value, was given to us at birth and has never left us; we are God’s children and he loves us unconditionally. He loves us whether we’re smart or not, pretty or not, successful or not, rich or poor, in God’s eyes we are all equal. This is amazing.
May you truly know your value in God’s eyes, you are priceless to him.
Debora Shelford Hobbs