Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oprah and the Lifeboat Theory

In elementary school, a common lesson in teaching the value of others is this lifeboat scenario:

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 garbageman, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?”

This type of thing is done every day. You see it in the school yard when teams are chosen for dodgeball. The weakest players are seldom chosen first. Why? The team captain doesn’t want them in the lifeboat. It carries over into adulthood. Recently on Celebrity Apprentice it happened in the final show. You had two team captains, and thus, two “lifeboats.” The first captain chose the player who the other team captain had grown to rely upon the most, which weakened the other captain’s team.

In a family, even small children have a basic understanding of lifeboat theory. Mom is fixing lunch, and little Suzy is perfectly content to play in the floor in front of the TV. Why? Because she feels safe in the lifeboat that she shares with Mom. There is no threat to whether or not Mom will forget about her in favor of something else. But the instant the telephone rings, Suzy goes into a mild panic. There’s something that is competing for space in her lifeboat, and she has to make sure Mom knows that this intruder must go. So she cries, or she clings to Mom. Anything so that she can have more value than what Mom is showing value to at that particular moment. Eventually, Suzy becomes secure in the knowledge that Mom values her no matter what, and that her place is firmly established in Mom’s lifeboat.

As we grow up, we find ourselves in many lifeboats along the way – popularity in school, competing in the job market, finding a mate. We are validated as a person from how we relate with each other. We are validated by people outside of ourselves. In the lifeboat scenario that I opened with, each one of these people has worth, all of them equal worth. Yet when the exercise is presented to the students, this ideology is rarely, if ever, considered. There are too many in the lifeboat, and someone must be thrown overboard! But of course no one will voluntarily throw himself overboard to save the others because his life is just as important, if not more valuable, as the next person’s.

So, what does this have to do with Oprah?

Let’s look at our relationship with God as a lifeboat. It’s us and Jesus (God in the flesh) in the boat. When Oprah was sitting in church and heard the preacher say that God is a jealous God, her reaction was “What? God is jealous? Of me?? Her place in the lifeboat was in jeopardy. Rather than clear up the misunderstanding, she chose to get out of the lifeboat. Not only did she get out of the lifeboat, she built herself one of her own.

If she had sought understanding, Oprah would have learned that yes, God is a jealous God. He does not want us to put ourselves ahead of Him, because that is his rightful place. But He also does not want us to perish adrift in the ocean. In order to save us He willingly gives up his place in the boat so that we will be able to live. If we had placed our lives ahead of God, we’d still be in jeopardy of losing our place. By freely offering his place in the boat, our relationship with God is secure now, and for eternity.

No comments: