Divine Action in the Thailand Cave Rescue?

A fairly amazing story. Not sure at all how it relates with our overall conversation. Maybe someone else can see.

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Seems like God gets the “credit” when things go wrong, but not so much when they go right. Credit where credit is due, including the workers who gave their best (and for one, even his life) to get the job done. Thank You, Lord, for this outcome; and please comfort the family and colleagues of the hero who was lost. Greater love has no man than this. Yet another human drama that so clearly illustrates the Gospel.

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Even contemporary history is too complex to understand fully (like evolution?). But one thing that’s sure is that we seldom hear more than a small part of the story - we heard more about Elon Musk, for example, than was ever warranted by his role.

One small thing, with reference to Guy’s point, struck me during the events themselves. Before the kids were found, the usual gaggle of Western reporters were buzzing like flies around the cave where rescuers, relatives, well-wishers etc had gathered.

In the background (and not commented upon) one could hear a small group singing to the accompaniment of a guitar that seemed, to me, highly indicative of a Christian prayer gathering rather than Buddhist chanting. That seemed odd, since only 1.2% of Thais are Christian (not including the boys or their coach, it seems) - except that this cave is in the extreme north, where Christians comprise 16% in some lowland districts, and “high percentages” in tribal districts. The local church might well have turned out in solidarity.

Now the whole Thai nation seems to have been engaged in this event, and the Seal who gave his life in the rescue, as far as has been reported, was probably a majority Buddhist. But the unreported gathering for prayer (and the under-reported elephant in the room of how Buddhists responded spiritually) shows one aspect of how important spiritual issues may be to those involved, and hence to the whole story, and yet be deemed irelevant to the reportage and, no doubt, to any film that gets made. The press, too, operates largely under methodological naturalism.

Subsequent to writing this, I see that Terry Mattingly on Get Religion wrote on how sketchily western media covered even the prominent Buddhist spirituality that surrounded this event. Therevada Buddhism is atheistic, but God both blesses and enlightens all men - and is certainly by no means absent when local believers are devoted to prayer.

Thanks you two for showing me exactly why this relates. It connects directly to this: Can We Empirically Detect "Agency"?, and the conversation with @rcohlers. Read these two sections of the article, the two places were the divine seems most visible.


Divine Protection

Kaew, the Thai Navy SEAL member, was standing in the chilly flood of the cave on Tuesday night, swallowing his last bite of seafood-and-pineapple pizza, when he heard the yelled warning: More water was coming fast — get out now.

For three grueling days, he and his comrades had been hefting the 12 boys and their coach one by one through the series of slick and steep caverns to safety.

Just moments before the alarm, he had welcomed back the SEAL team that stayed with the boys for eight days on the rock where they had been trapped deep within Tham Luang’s flooded maze.

“The boys were safe, and my friends were safe,” said Kaew, who was not authorized to give his full name. “I thought, finally, the mission is a success.”

Then, when it was seemingly all over, a drainage pump to minimize flooding failed. What had been waist-high water surged to chest level in a vicious torrent where Kaew was standing, about a half-mile inside the cave’s mouth. Kaew, who had no scuba gear with him, scrambled to higher ground, barely escaping the final deluge.

It was a chaotic finale to the rescue. Many of the divers and residents of the nearby northern Thai town of Mae Sai saw the last-minute flood as a sign that divine protection had ceased only after all were safe.

For the entire mission, Kaew had wrapped a Buddha amulet hanging on his neck with waterproof tape. “The cave is sacred,” he said. “It was protected until the very end.”

So several people there perceived God’s providential governance over this situation. It is the timing that seems to signal meaning, not any notion of laws being broken. A question for @rcohlers, how could empiricism even in principle tell us if this was special divine action or not? What evidence could tell us if it was divine protection or not? And theologically speaking, why do these question of mechanism matter even the slightest?

And look at an equally valid interpretation, chance,

“The most important piece of the rescue was good luck,” said Maj. Gen. Chalongchai Chaiyakham, the deputy commander of the Third Army region, which helped the operation. “So many things could have gone wrong, but somehow we managed to get the boys out.”


And see these excerpts:

“I don’t know of any other rescue that put the rescuer and the rescuee in so much danger over a prolonged period of time, unless it is something along the lines of firefighters going into the World Trade Center knowing that the building is on fire and is going to collapse,” Major Hodges said.

The risks were underscored on July 6 when Saman Gunan, a retired Thai Navy SEAL, died in an underwater passageway. Three SEAL frogmen were hospitalized after their air tanks ran low. Swift currents pushed divers off-track for hours at a time, sometimes tearing off their face masks.

Four days after the boys were found, Mr. Saman, the retired Navy SEAL member who left his airport security job to volunteer, died as he was placing air tanks on an underwater supply route. His family declined an autopsy, but some Thai officials said that he ran out of air in his tanks. Others believe he succumbed to hypothermia.

“I’m very proud of him,” said Mr. Saman’s father, Wichai Gunan, a car mechanic. “He is a hero who did all he could to help the boys.”

Even just cutting and pasting these quotes here, is emotional for me. Here, a father (Wichai) proud of the nature of his son’s death (Saman). I am sure he loves his son, and grieves his absence too. Still, he finds something of deep and enduring pride here, and we all know he is right.

As the story was unfolding, I remember feeling real sadness in Saman’s death. It would be causally and logically valid to say that these kids and the coach “caused” his death by trespassing past the warning signs at the cave’s entrance. It is because of their mistake, an innocent man is dead. That is logically and causally valid, but it is not how any one seems to see this. Instead, we rightfully rejoice at the return of the lost children. Even the coach who led them into the cave is commended for carefully protecting them the best he could. No one is blamed, and we see a true story of cooperation and bravery and love.

It is easy to dismiss all that as a publicity ready gloss. However, there is something about us that wants to read the story that way. In some sense we know that Wichai has some right to be angry with the coach for his son Saman’s death. Perhaps he even is, and that is being hidden from us. However, we know that the Image of God in this moment is Wichai, reflecting to us all the heart of the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son. There is Grace from the father beyond what we might rightfully expect, even as we come to expect it as we know the Father is truly good.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Even if the prayer meeting was Christian, it likely included Buddhists too, and it is in Buddhist cultural context. It seems this reading is just as those even in this culture seem to read it. There seems to be something deeply resonant between this story and the Gospel. And of note, this also was “caused” by the trespass of the children and the coach as they entered the cave. It was made more clear by the death of Saman, the peril of the rain, and also the failure of the pumps.

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Well, there’s interesting…

Apparently the boys are being “ordained” in a Buddhist ceremony - except for one, who is a Christian:

One of the boys, Adul Sam-on, will not be joining the rest of the “Wild Boars” football team as he is a Christian. Their coach Ekkapol “Ake” Chantawong, 25, will join them for the same period of time but as a fully fledged monk rather than a novice.

That tends to confim that I was correct in my interpretation of the communal singing - no doubt Adul Sam-on’s church turned out to pray when he and the others went missing. And although it’s a small point in the story as whole, it does show that one’s usual assumptions about Thailand (a Buddhist Country - only 1.2% Christians) are as simplistic as the press’s tendency to secularise what, at many levels, was seen locally as a matter of religion.

What would be the boy’s story, as the only Christian in the group (and as a religious minority?)

A little more enquiry into Therevada Buddhism is interesting. In its pure form it’s atheistic, though folk do sometimes pray to Hindu deities adopted into Buddhism. However, Buddhism itself has to do with meditation to produce detachment - acceptance of life as it is without chafing at good and evil. And hence, I guess, the spiritual aim of the trainer, once a monk, teaching the boys to meditate.

So the question arises of what role prayer for divine help in rescue would have played in the agenda of Thai people other than the Christians, who believe in a saving God, rather than in detachment. It would be interesting if the press reports covered that aspect, rather than take a blanket approach based on Western assumptions: “There were religious folk, so no doubt their prayers were answered.” Did they pray?

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Of course they did. The whole scenario is as if virtually tailored to reach out to, and awaken from slumber, spiritual stoicism in demoralized people. I pray myself for a spiritual awakening among the Thai people over this.
In fact, I should be praying for it in the news coverage, among the reporters, and among anyone else who hears this much of the deliberately buried parts of the story. God is good and merciful in this matter.

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Human ingenuity- our Intelligently Designed ability to solve problems, along with our skill and technology to help us- did this. Their beliefs kept them in a positive “don’t give up, we can do this” attitude. But in the end it was just doing what humans do in adverse conditions because of our Intelligently Designed ability to do so.

We intentionally adapt to overcome adversity.

So @Jongarvey, I was thinking about some of our past conversations on information.

I was thinking about this in an Asian context. “Luck” is an important concept in Thailand (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luck#Buddhism), as it is in many asian countries.

belief in luck is prevalent in many predominantly Buddhist countries. In Thailand, Buddhists may wear verses (takrut) or lucky amulets which have been blessed by monks for protection against harm.[23]

Luck is random improbable events, but it is also though to have a material or spiritual cause (such as karma). It is also connected to “fate.” We often see luck as ontological randomness often in our context. In the asian context, it might rather mean the “place where things beyond our direct understanding operate.” That understanding of luck might be closer to reality.

I am not expert on asian religious beliefs on luck. Perhaps one of the scholars in Hong Kong can help us (@Andrew_Loke, @rcohlers, @kelvin_M). Still, I see the connection to “randomness” being better understood as “unknown” than ontological chance. What do you think?

Actually, on reflection we do sometimes have an obvious way to distinguish - just not a formal one. My example of the damming of the Jordan for Irael’s entry to Canaan cannot formally be distinguished from randomness, but the person who doesn’t recognise it as God’s work is an ass… and the text itself recognises that most people aren’t asses, because the miracle was one of those putting the Canaanites in fear and trembling.

We also have metaphysical means of distiguishing them, as I’ve often tried to say. The most obvious is that, if you don’t believe the world is law-based and purely the result of chance, “hidden laws” won’t be a meaningful category.

More significantly for the science-faith matter, the existence of ontological randomness is an alternative to theism, not a possible cause within it. And even “chance” in the sense of rare collisions of natural foreces, apart from providence, is antithetic to historic Christian teaching, though all too prevalent in the last century as the liberal mind cast off the well-established doctine of universal providence.

Scientifically, there really is no case I can discover for ontological chance (above the quantum scale), and so the only two alternatives for the Christian ought to be (a) unknown laws (or known laws acting immeasurably, eg chaotically) and (b) direct divine action, with both of those being covered by divine providence.

The difference between “providence” and “fate” is an interesting one, and I think is basically another distinction between theism and … the rest. Fate is blind, albeit decreed by the gods and so perhaps to be accepted - it would fit with the semi-deist “front-loaded” concept of the universe, like Einstein’s: God decrees the big picture, and sometimes we suffer the fallout - The monsoon must run as first priority, so people must suffer sometimes.

“Providence” (or, properly, “special providence”) is the caring disposal of events by our Father. His ways are sometimes incomprehensible, but all deliverance is from the Lord. I’d like to see how Adul’s Baptist Church discusses that with their Buddhist neighbours.

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It does beg the question. If God is responsible for saving people, does this mean God just felt like letting people die when they aren’t saved from a mine or cave collapse?

God can always save people from death itself, which, for believers, is not the permanent tragedy it’s made out to be.

Then why save those people in the cave? Why some and not others?

@cdods, how is this question answered in theology?

You don’t think it goes the other way more often? I don’t remember ever hearing a Christian say something like “thank you Lord for sending that bolt of lighting to collapse that church onto the congregation, killing most of them.” Meanwhile, we obviously hear God getting the credit for all sorts of good things, I won’t even bother to list an example.

We see this in this very thread, where @swamidass highlights parts of the article that he thinks describe probable divine agency: the last-minute flood happened after everyone was safe. Meanwhile, he doesn’t seem to highlight parts like:

Kaew, who had no scuba gear with him, scrambled to higher ground, barely escaping the final deluge.

or

Saman Gunan, a retired Thai Navy SEAL, died in an underwater passageway. Three SEAL frogmen were hospitalized after their air tanks ran low. Swift currents pushed divers off-track for hours at a time, sometimes tearing off their face masks.

as being equally plausible divine actions.

I know this is because you obviously believe that God wouldn’t go out of his way to do “bad things”, but might to do “good things”, but surely you see that this appears as a double standard.

The reason atheists sometimes make snide comments about thanking god for bad thing X happening is because we see this double standard or inconsistency as a problem. As the theological discussion above went: how can we determine agency in “good” and “bad” events? It seems much more reasonable to me to conclude, at least provisionally, that the best explanation is that no agency was involved at all, and that “good” and “bad” things simply happen sometimes. End of story.

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Of course it does. But theists seem to not notice.

Here is an interesting occurrence:

The chances of this occurring are pretty astronomical. Does this mean God used his powers to kill someone?

Suppose you are missing the point. We aren’t saying that merely because it is a rare and unlikely event God did it.

In a previous post, you stated:

The same would apply to the example I gave. The timing of that person being in exactly that spot in order to be killed by a freak accident seems to signal the same sort of meaning.

Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Job 2:20-21, ESV

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