It’s a horrific story: a man looks on as the car carrying his wife and son sinks beneath the surface of a flood-swollen river. He jumps into the water and is able to pull his wife free but can’t reach his son. What to do — keep struggling and try to reach his son, or use his energy to ensure his wife”s survival? A recent AP story described the dilemma:
[New Zealander Stacy] Horton said he arrived at the crash scene less than two minutes after the accident to hear his wife screaming in the darkness and to see his son’s friend and the family dog scrambling up the bank. His son Silva was trapped inside the submerged station wagon.
He tried to dive down to the vehicle, which was nose down but with the tail lights burning more than 3 feet (1 meter) below the surface, he told the Dominion Post newspaper.
“I tried to get down and get him but I couldn’t – it was just too deep. And Vanessa was going under,” Horton told the newspaper.
“I made a call to pull my wife to safety. I looked back and I could see the tail lights but it was too far and I couldn’t get him,” he said.
“Instead of going down and risking my life as well as my wife and son’s, I chose to take V(anessa) back and sat on the shore praying. It was all I could do,” a distraught Horton said.
Recourse to prayer is a common theme in stories of life-or-death peril. Time and again, people struggling to survive find that they’ve run out of options and turn to hope of divine intervention. But is praying something that can actually help to materially improve one’s odds?