The Lifeboat Theory


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

You’re My Security

The winds of trouble surely blow
A once bright path turns dark with woe.
Some days are filled with sad surprise
And needs aren’t met and bills pile high.
When marriage fails and kids go wrong
When disappointment is the song.

Oh God, You’re my security
You give me hope and victory.
There’s nothing that this world provides
For lasting peace and strength to guide.
When all else fails, One thing I know
Bowed on my knees, in grace I’ll grow.

When I exchange my will for Yours
Your peace comes down and calms my fears.
And when I set my eyes on You
I walk on storms and stand secure.
You are my fortress and my strength
You lift me up on eagle’s wings.

Lord You’re my rock and dwelling place
You walk me through hard times with grace.
When all around me turns to dust
I surrender all…Help me to trust!
Take my will and give me Yours
Pour down your joy from heaven’s door.
You are my victory and my strength
You lift me up on eagle’s wings.

When all my hopes fall to the ground
When quick sand hides all that is sound.
When sickness seems to have its hold
And prayers seem hollow, weak, and cold.
When God seems far from my desires
And all my dreams, go up in fire.

Still God, You’re my security
In You there’s always victory!
You’re ways are not the ways of man
For you see all, from beginning to end.
Take my will and give me Yours
Pour down more grace from heaven’s door.

By Rhonda Shelford Jansen