In the 2006 movie "The Guardian," Kevin Costner stars as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer who has spent many missions at sea pulling people out of mortal peril. In the course of the story, he has to perform a tour of duty at the rescuer swimmer's school, training the next generation of this elite brand of heroes. One student in particular struggles with the training, and it is revealed that he has failed out of the school before. An especially challenging part of the qualifying process continues to defeat him; that being, a simulated rescue scenario in which he must jump from an elevated platform (simulating jumping from a helicopter) into a pool, take control of the victim and pull them to safety.
What makes the exercise so hard for him is that the supposed victim also is an instructor who will simulate the panic many victims in the water demonstrate. The "victim" climbs onto the rescue swimmer, trying to elevate themselves out of the water by pushing the rescuer down in the water. Many a lifeguard has been drowned in this manner. Therefore, a key component of the exercise is the ability of the rescuer to take control of the victim. The candidate has failed this exercise repeatedly up to now because he cannot gain control of the panicked "victim," nearly drowning on some occasions. Finally, he is able to pass the exercise victorious because of a tactic that perhaps may shock the viewer. When the "victim"/instructor grabs hold of the candidate in a simulated panic, and attempts to drag him down below the surface, the student struggles with him for a moment but then elbows him in the face, breaking his nose. Far from being angry with him, the instructors (including the one with the new nose bleed) are proud of him. (view clip)
The lesson is simple: get control of the victim or the rescue will fail. If the victim is allowed to "help" out the rescue, not only will the rescue fail, it's likely you'll have two victims now. The student had to take the extreme measure of striking the "victim" (rendering them totally dependent on the rescuer) in order to save them.
Our salvation in Christ is so similar its uncanny. When we are being rescued by Christ, if we try to "help," we screw up the rescue. We panic. We flail our arms and try to "save" ourselves. Usually this just results in trying to push Jesus under us in order to elevate ourselves out of danger. It doesn't work. We botch the rescue because we didn't give the Savior total control of the rescue. Yet many a safe and secure "victim" sits thankful on Christ's vessel, expressing gratitude while sporting a bloody nose.
Martin Luther knew that our attempts to help Christ's saving work out with our effort totally screws up the rescue. That is why he was so passionate in his opposition to Rome in the 16th century.
Yet we still see this everywhere today. Religious constructs form whole systems out of attempting self-rescue. In Christianity, the temptation to add "victim" effort to the rescue of Christ is rampant. Although Christ is the hero, I want to break their nose so that they will go limp and allow him to simply "save" them. In addition, I get so incensed by systems encouraging victims to flail about in panicked attempts to self-rescue. People must be saved from the perils of a broken world, from terrifying consequences of our own making and from the effects of drifting in the turbulent seas of our ongoing rebellion (called "sin"). We're treading water in 30 foot swells. Our boat has sunk, and our clothes are starting to weigh us down. However, the very thing weighing us down we won't strip off because we think it keeps us warm. Into our seas jumps the Son of God, fully immersed in our experience, ready and able to rescue. I don't care if he breaks my nose and takes control at this point. Do you?