Who help themselves

by , under thinking

I know I ought really to think that any kind of joke is an inferior art form, but I love this one. Let’s call it a fable, okay? (ETA: No, Adrian was right: it’s a parable.)

There’s a flood, and this man (I’ll call him Jim as an everyman name that I don’t know any real-life bearer of so nobody will think it’s them I’m making fun of) lives in a house on the outskirts of a village in the flood-plain, which predictably gets cut off by the water. As his ground-floor carpet is starting to become damp a lorry drives by, containing several of his neighbours with rucksacks, boxes and cat carriers. “Get your things and climb in!” they call. “You’ll be flooded out in no time! We’ll wait for you up the road.” “No,” Jim says, “I trust that God will help me.”

The water rises. Jim is leaning out of his bedroom window on the first floor when a rickety boat comes by, rowed by the schoolmistress and the shopkeeper, red-faced with effort. “We heard you were still here!” the two women call, “you can nip out that window, it’s at the perfect height now. Don’t bother getting your toothbrush, we have plenty to spare.” “No, thanks,” Jim says, “God will help me, I’m sure of that.” They shake their heads, and try some more, and finally give up as Jim pulls his head back inside.

The water rises. As Jim sits on the ridge of his roof, holding on to the chimney, he hears flapping behind him. It’s the butcher with a helicopter; he’s not a very good pilot but tries his best and even manages to get a rope ladder within Jim’s reach. “Hey, man!” he calls, “just in time. Grab the ladder and get in!” “Certainly not,” Jim says, “I trust that God will save me.”

The water rises. The house is submerged.

When Jim arrives in Heaven –for he has always been a good man, though perhaps not a wise one– the Almighty looks upon him and says, “Well before your time; what’s come over you?” “God!” Jim shouts. “I was trusting in you and you didn’t save me.”

“Child,” God says, and the pity in His face is unbearable, “I sent you a lorry, a boat and a helicopter– what more did you expect?”


  1. Adrian Morgan

    I feel I’m missing something in your opening line. Jokes, inferior? It doesn’t compute that this would be your sincere opinion, so it must be some kind of ironic reference. But it doesn’t make sense to me as an ironic reference, either. So I’m missing something.

    As for the item in question, in my opinion it isn’t a joke at all. I remember thinking as much years ago, when I read it in a joke book and found it incongruous. But my response to your “Let’s call it a fable” was, “Why not a parable?”

    So I looked it up, and Wikipedia says that “A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech and other powers of humankind.” So I’m calling it a parable.

    Personally, I don’t share your taste for it, if only because it’s so predictable. Which, I suppose, is why it doesn’t work as a joke. Riffing off the topic of parables, I recall reading a commentary that assumed Matthew 22:25-28 to be describing actual events, and thinking, “No, it’s obviously a parable in which Jesus is doing the listening for a change”.

    I could in turn riff off that and end up way, way off topic…

    • Irina

      It’s not my sincere opinion (or I wouldn’t say “I ought to think”) but it’s the sincere opinion of several people whose opinions I value higher than my own. (No more discussion, please, I’d only get defensive and I hate that.)


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