The pastor and the flood: A parable on who can save you

I use the story about the pastor and the flood to ask who you’re waiting for to come to your aid. Is it someone else, or is it you?

My dad used to tell this story.

It was meant as a joke, I’m sure, with a solid punchline that knocks you sideways, but like many good jokes, there is a piece of truth hidden inside it.

I’ve adapted this story over the years as my own. I even named a prototype of my first blog after the story. It has always held a great deal of resonance to me.

Why? Well, it shows the folly of viewing your role in the world as a passive participant. It shows how you have agency to help yourself. It shows the benefit of humanism, and the risks in too much blind religiosity.

And it’s flexible enough that it probably has many more lessons too, but those are what resonate for me.

As it always feels relevant, but especially so today, I’m going to tell it in my own way. I’m sure you can find it in other places; I don’t claim that this is original material. Call it a “cover”.

May you find a lesson of your own in this, especially in times of struggle and looking to others for our own salvation.

I call it: The pastor and the flood.

First contact

Once there was a pastor who lived in a small town. He was pious and proud, and served the community openly and generously for many years. He lived in the church in the center of town.

One day, heavy rains came. The storm grew fierce and didn’t abate, and soon enough, the small town began to flood.

The pastor was not dettered, and stayed in the church, praying

As the flood waters lapped at the entrance to the church, a small rescue boat came by to attend to the pastor. “Reverend, you must come with us. The rains are not stopping and you are in danger.

No thank you,” the pastor said. “I will stay here. God will protect me.

The rescuers tried to convince the pastor to leave the church and come with them, but they could not, so they left him to his church and his prayers.

Second contact

The flood waters rose higher.

Now the water was inside the church, flooding the pews, and the pastor had to move toward higher ground inside, climbing to an upstairs room.

That evening, another rescue boat came, a much larger, more official rescue ship. This time it was level with the upstairs window whre the pastor was sheltering, praying all the way.

Reverend, you must leave this place! It is not safe!

But the pastor held up his hand. “No, I will not leave. I am safe here. God will protect me.

But you will surely drown!

I put my faith in God to deliver me to safety.

The pastor would not be moved, and the ship was forced to leave him there.

Final contact

The rains grew more fierce, and the floods rose. Soon, even the upstairs grew flooded, and the pastor was forced to climb onto the roof of the church. There, he held on for dear life as the rains soaked him, as he continued to pray.

A rescue helicopter was scanning the town for any last survivors. It shone a flood light on to the roof of the church. A rope ladder was thrown down to the pastor.

Through a bullhorn, he heard, “Come with us! The whole town is evacuated now. You must leave! You have no choice if you want to save yourself.

The pastor cried out in response. “I will not leave! I stay with my church. I will be safe here. I put my trust in God, and I know God will protect me.

And so the helicopter, unable to sway the pastor, was forced to abandon him there.

The flood waters continued to rise. Eventually, they grew so high that the pastor had no solid ground to stand on.

The pastor drowned.

The question

When the pastor got to heaven, he was able to speak with God.

He asked, “What happened? I put my trust in you. I devoted my life to you. I prayed and prayed, and thought you would protect me. Why didn’t you come and save me?

God responded, “What do you mean? I sent you two boats and a helicopter.

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