Fact Check

The Anguishing Choice

Father has to choose between saving his drowning son and another boy.

Published Oct 24, 2003

Glurge:   Father has to choose between saving his drowning son and another boy.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2000]

After a few of the usual Sunday evening hymns, the church's pastor once again slowly stood up, walked over to the pulpit, and gave a very brief introduction of his childhood friend. With that, an elderly man stepped up to the pulpit to speak, "A father, his son, and a friend of his son were sailing off the Pacific Coast," he began, "when a fast approaching storm blocked any attempt to get back to shore. The waves were so high, that even though the father was an experienced sailor, he could not keep the boat upright, and the three were swept into the ocean."

The old man hesitated for a moment, making eye contact with two teenagers who were, for the first time since the service began, looking somewhat interested in his story. He continued, "Grabbing a rescue line, the father had to make the most excruciating decision of his life: to which boy he would throw the other end of the line. He only had seconds to make the decision. The father knew that his son was a Christian, and he also knew that his son's friend was not. The agony of his decision could not be matched by the torrent of waves. As the father yelled out, 'I love you, son!' he threw the line to his son's friend."

"By the time he pulled the friend back to the capsized boat, his son had disappeared beyond the raging swells into the black of night. His body was never recovered."

By this time, the two teenagers were sitting straighter in the pew, waiting for the next words to come out of the old man's mouth. "The father," he continued, "knew his son would step into eternity with Jesus, and he could not bear the thought of his son's friend stepping into an eternity without Jesus. Therefore, he sacrificed his son. How great is the love of God that He should do the same for us." With that, the old man turned and sat back down in his chair as silence filled the room.

Within minutes after the service ended, the two teenagers were at the old man's side. "That was a nice story," politely started one of the boys, "but I don't think it was very realistic for a father to give up his son's life in hopes that the other boy would become a Christian."

"Well, you've got a point there," the old man replied, glancing down at his worn Bible. A big smile broadened his narrow face, and he once again looked up at the boys and said, "It sure isn't very realistic, is it? But I'm standing here today to tell you that THAT story gives me a glimpse of what it must have been like for God to give up His son for me. You see . . . I was the son's friend."


  • Versions that began circulating in 2001 changed the ending: "You see — I was that father and your pastor is my son's friend."

Origins:   We saw this story appear on the Internet in 2000, leading us to believe its source was a book of inspirational tales published that year, Stories for a Faithful Heart. That compilation included this offering (titled "The Father's Anguishing Decision"), attributing it to Carla


Carla Muir is a writer who has penned a number of uplifting tales, including Beauty Contest (an entreaty from a beauty products company for bios and photos of the loveliest women of one's acquaintance prompts a child to describe the crone who plays checkers with him "as the most beautiful woman") and Distant Relatives (grasping relatives of the deceased fail to find his gold because they'd never taken the trouble to get to know him).

The 2001 version of "The Father's Anguished Tale" not only changes the dramatis personae to make the pastor the unbeliever who was saved and the old man who tells the story from the pulpit the father of the boy who died, it also concludes with an exhortation to forward the glurge to five close friends in order to get them to pray for the sender, boasting "Let's just see Satan stop this one." But its largest change is represented by the following bit added deep within its text, sandwiched between the "How great is the love of God that he should do the same for us" and "Within minutes after the service ended, the two teenagers were at the old man's side":

Our heavenly Father sacrificed his only begotten son that we could be saved. I urge you to accepted His offer to rescue you and take a hold of the life line He is throwing out to you in this service." With that, the old man turned and sat back down in his chair as silence filled the room. The Pastor again walked slowly to the pulpit and delivered a brief sermon with an invitation at the end.

However, no one responded to the appeal.

The purpose of this expansion of the original is to bludgeon the reader with the message of the story, rather than leaving it to him to work out that it's an allegory for God's sacrifice of his only begotten son to save mankind. Another glurge expounding on this theme is the Drawbridge Keeper tale, about a father who must decide between the life of his cherished son and the lives of all the passengers on a train hurtling towards certain destruction. In it too the parallel is explained, undercutting the symbolism in its determination to ensure the message is not missed.

However, while the literary offering about the pastor, the childhood friend, and two drowning boys, one who died and one who was rescued, dates to a book published in 2000, the underlying plot is a great deal older and indeed launched the writing career of a famed spy/adventure novel author. In 1954 in a competition sponsored by the Glasgow Herald, a short story titled "The Dileas" fetched a prize of £100 for its writer, Alistair MacLean, who then went on to write H.M.S. Ulysses, The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare, and Breakheart Pass.

"The Dileas" tells the story of a crusty sea captain who sets out during a fierce storm to rescue his two sons, who were on a vessel now reported to be foundering. He comes across the two young men struggling in the water at the same moment as he spies in the opposite direction a makeshift raft bearing two small children. The heavy, roiling seas make it impossible for him to attempt to rescue more than one party, so he turns the boat for the children and manages to pluck them from the sea even as his own sons slip under the waves and drown. He makes his choice based on the children's having been lashed to the bits of debris they were found clinging to, which he takes as a sign of his sons' having wanted the youngsters saved even in preference to themselves. (Had the young men wanted to preserve their own lives rather than those of the children, they'd have tied themselves to that raft.)

"The Dileas" differs from "The Father's Anguishing Decision" in that nothing about the salvation of souls drives the sea captain's choice; he bases his decision about whom to rescue on what he believes visual evidence tells him about his sons' desires, choosing at that fateful moment to respect their right as grown men to give their lives for others. He views himself as supporting a decision already made in preference to overriding it.

Barbara "rising to a crescendo, with a crash of symbols" Mikkelson

Last updated:   25 January 2005


  Sources Sources:

    Gray, Alice.   Stories for the Heart.

    Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers Inc., 1996.   ISBN 1-576-73127-8   (pp. 220-221).

    Hinn, Benny.   The Blood.

    Charisma House, 2001.   ISBN 0-884-19377-2   (pp. 127-128).

    MacLean, Alistair.   The Lonely Sea.

    Australia: Fontana, 1985.   ISBN 0-00-617277-6.

    Meyer, Richard C.   One Anothering, Volume 3.

    Philadelphia: Innisfree Press, 2002.   ISBN 1-880-91356-9   (pp. 121-122).

Article Tags