The ultimate cave rescue

Lillian Suwanrumpha—Getty Images

In the middle of last year, people around the world were gripped by the story of 12 young soccer players and their coach, trapped inside a cave in northern Thailand. On Saturday, June 23, the Wild Boars team entered the Tham Luang cave on a team excursion after football practice. The boys, aged 11–17, and their 25-year-old coach, were trapped as run-off from heavy rains filled the cave with water, blocking their exit.

On Monday, June 25, Thai Navy divers began to search the cave system. What happened next was a display of extraordinary courage, resilience, and selflessness as divers from Thailand and around the world flocked to the cave in an effort to rescue the boys.

There was a global sigh of relief when two British divers found all 12 boys and their coach alive, perched on a small rock ledge on July 2, nine days later. Video of the boys in good spirits and the heart-warming letters they wrote to their parents, telling them not to worry, moved the hearts of millions following the story. But the grave reality was that the rescuers were in a race against the rising waters as the heavy rains continued, threatening to further compromise the safety of the trapped boys.

In an incredibly sad development, Saman Kunan, a retired Thai Navy Seal who delivered oxygen to the boys, died after running out of oxygen as he tried to swim out of the cave. More bad news followed: the oxygen level inside the cave had fallen to 15 per cent from the usual level of 21 per cent. Time was running out.

Finally, good news came on July 8 when a team of Thai and foreign divers was able to rescue four boys, each strapped to a diver and wearing a full-face scuba mask. Four more of the group were rescued the next day and the final members of the team and their coach were rescued on July 10. The entire ordeal had taken 17 days.

People around the world were amazed at how the team had held together under the bleakest of circumstances. We learned that, before the team was discovered, their coach refused to eat any food so that anything available went to the boys. The Wild Boars demonstrated extraordinary courage and fortitude. Everyone was in awe of the bravery of the divers and the extraordinary sacrifice of Kunan, the diver who gave his life in the rescue effort.

the shadow self

The Thai cave rescue story revealed glimpses of the goodness of people. It was touching and inspiring to see the unselfishness of the rescuers and the strength and fighting spirit of the boys and their coach. When we see the positive side of human nature, it’s not hard to believe that, as the Bible says, humans were created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27).

Sadly, the warm glow of the successful cave rescue was tarnished in a very public spat between billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX fame, and Vern Unsworth, one of the divers who criticized a mini submarine that Musk had brought to Thailand to aid in the rescue effort. After Unsworth criticized Musk and his mini-sub (which was not used in the rescue) on Twitter, Musk retaliated with a deeply offensive tweet, insulting the diver who had risked his life in the rescue effort. There was a public uproar that lasted several days until Musk finally apologized. The difference between the uplifting rescue story and the ugly Twitter battle could not have been more stark. It was a discouraging reminder of the dark side of human nature that shows up even in the best of times.

The Bible says this dark side has been with us ever since our first parents, Adam and Eve sinned (Psalm 51:5). Genesis 3 chronicles humanity’s fall from grace. Right from the moment our first parents ate the forbidden fruit we have been shadowed by a darkness we haven’t been able to shake, even at the best of times. Just a few hundred years after Adam and Eve got us off to a bad start, Genesis 6:5 said that “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” A dismal picture.


God’s rescue plan

Fortunately, a dramatic rescue story that eclipses even that of the Thai boys has brought a happy development to our collective human story. Like the Thai Navy Seal diver Kunan, Jesus the Son of God died in the course of His rescue mission. He did it willingly for both you and me in order to restore our relationship with God after it had been tarnished by the rebellion of human sin (2 Corinthians 5:19). Because of the unselfish sacrifice of Jesus, we are forgiven of our sins and cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). It’s a good thing, too, because none of us would escape eternal death otherwise. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The ultimate rescue story of Jesus’ sacrifice more than makes up for the depressing news of our fallen human nature. Romans 5:15 says, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man [Adam], how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”

While we are here on earth, human nature may disappoint us. Even in the brightest moments, we are reminded of the fact that as a human race, we leave much to be desired. But there is amazing hope for what God can do in the lives of those who choose to follow His ways. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

If that is good news for life here on earth, there is even better news to come. In Matthew 25:34, Jesus predicted a time when He would say to those who believe in Him: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” No matter how dark the cave of life may get, this is a bright ray of hope that tells us help is on the way. One day we will leave the darkness of earthly existence and enjoy the kingdom prepared for us.

The news of Kunan’s sacrifice was kept from the Thai boys until they were safely out of the cave. “We are impressed that Saman sacrificed his life to save us so that we could go and live our lives,” said the Thai boys’ coach, Ekapol Chantawong, at a press conference after the team’s release from hospital.

The Thai boys and their coach are not the only ones who have been given a new lease on life. Every time we hear their story retold we have an opportunity to reflect on the second chance that we, too, have been given.


Bjorn Karlman is a freelance writer who travels the world as a “digital nomad”, living in 2–3 countries per year with his wife and toddler.

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