Illustration: The Drawbridge Keeper’s Son

Once upon a time there was a drawbridge by which a train would cross a perilous chasm. And at that drawbridge was a keeper who’s job it was to lower the drawbridge in order that the train might pass unharmed.

Now it just so happened that it was a sunny Tuesday morning when the father got the bright idea to bring his only son to work with him and let the boy wedge himself between the gears of the drawbridge lowering mechanism.

“Gadzooks!” exclaimed the father  suddenly, “I just remembered that it’s time for a train to come through and now I’ve got to lower the drawbridge and crush you to death so that train full of strangers can live.”

So he does exactly that. This certainly doesn’t do the boy a whole lot of good and one can only imagine it doesn’t do the drawbridge gears any favors either.  But the train is saved and goes through completely unaware of what has happened and nobody even bothers to stop and say “thank you” or send a fruit basket.

Somehow or another this is just like Christ dying to save humanity (not to mention providing great discussions for philosophy classes) which  evidently was also a horrible accident.

Please pass out the tissues and turn to #365 in your Hymnals,  Just as I Am.

68 thoughts on “Illustration: The Drawbridge Keeper’s Son”

  1. I was HORRIFIED by this illustration as a kid! No, I didn’t want a trainful of innocent people to die, but neither did I want the kid to die.

    Of course, I’ve also heard it told that the son was old enough to understand the situation (although not to extricate himself from the gears), and he told his dad to go ahead and lower the bridge.

  2. he told his dad to go ahead and lower the bridge.

    I hadn’t heard that version. It somehow manages to ring even less true than the original.

  3. I’ve once heard this illustration too. Then I mentioned to someone that if the drawbridge was in the up position the train would have gotten a red signal down the tracks and would have stopped anyway. I sort of deflated the whole emotional balloon, but on the inside I was grinning ear to ear. 🙂

  4. Yeah, I’ve heard both versions. It’s a shame those trains don’t have brakes and there aren’t signals. I’ve also heard it the other way, about the riverboat needing to go through the bridge that needs to be opened.

    Thanks for dredging up more traumatic memories from my childhood. 😉

    Seriously, great post.

  5. @ Stan and Darren, never let the facts get in the way of a great story, which could be another post on here!

  6. There is a video version of this abomination. I think that the Mormons produced it. I can’t find it on the Internet, but I hope it is there. The world is desperate for its wonderfully decorous message of hope and selfless altruism.

  7. after reading this illustration, i suddenly want for somebody to show me how i can know i’m going to heaven when i die.

  8. Reader Mo,

    That’s easy, you need to have a personal relationship with the crushed kid.

  9. Just out of interest, and completely unrelated to this entry, does the blog owner have any idea of how many people reading his blog is a Christian and how many are not? Just wanted to know. Some replies are really hard to tell lol.

  10. does the blog owner have any idea of how many people reading his blog is a Christian and how many are not?

    Isn’t this something only God knows?

    Seriously, if you all can find the Mormon video (or whatever) of this, please pass it along!! Dying to experience it for myself.

  11. so… God had no idea that His Son was going to die? It was just a chance occurance? It’s not like they had planned His sacrificial death and life giving resurrection from the foundation of the world or anything.

  12. hahaha… i literally thought of this story every time i came to this website… just so happy that it finally got a post… haha

  13. haha I heard this growing up but it wasn’t a train bridge is was a bridge that a boat had to pass under.

  14. @Darrell if you do have a list of which readers are saved, and which are not, I’d be interested to find out which list I’m on. Thanks!

  15. Oh, and does anyone know if there’s a formulaic prayer I can say to have a personal relationship w/ that crushed child?

  16. Holy crap, this is a bad illustration. My initial reaction was to hope it wasn’t real. I can see from the comments that it is, and is used entirely too often. It’s like a cloying fundy version of the first half of “The Monkey’s Paw.”

  17. That it was a child who died always got me when I heard that story told (and in those movies – yoiks!!!) Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but that doesn’t mean He was a child. He didn’t start His public earthly ministry until age 30. He died as a man not a child. I think it is a child in the story to emphasize his innocence and the love of the father, but it just seems overly gratuitous to me. Nothing like a good old story about a five year old boy being crushed in the gears of a bridge to get people’s attention on a Sunday morning.

  18. @Jordan: if you made it through *any* amount of time in fundamentalism without ever hearing that illustration, you are one lucky guy! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it used.

  19. Twenty-odd years including five at BJU, and I don’t recall this little winner at all. God in his mercy must have shielded my mind from this ridiculous parable.

  20. I spent the same amount of time in fundamentalism, four of those years at an IFB Bible college, and have heard this illustration more times than I care to count. Blech. I envy you!

  21. Oh my goodness! I think my childhood pastor told this story about once a month! And somehow he managed to weave it into the sermons which were primarily about tithing. Thanks for the memories! I hadn’t thought about that for years.

  22. I don’t think I ever heard this little gem. But it just goes to show ONCE AGAIN how fundies are no better than the Taliban. They have absolutely no regard for life or how fragile it is. They figure your “eternal soul” is more important that your corporeal body and that is RUBBISH! We have proof that we are alive and HOPE that there is an afterlife.

  23. When I heard this illustration it was a boat that had to pass under a bridge, but I didn’t hear it in church. My dad used to tell me this as a bedtime story when I was 5 or 6…

  24. Yeah I had great dreams 🙂 I’m a person who feels things very deeply so I would lay in bed at night and just be so sad for that little boy and that dad and for the people who may not even get saved because of the father and son’s sacrifice and it would fill my little fundy heart full to bursting.

    I wish I was making this stuff up. It all seemed so normal then, but now when I say it out loud it’s so twisted and wrong and the total opposite of what I would ever say to my kids.

  25. You’ve destroyed the microphone to hell, the boiling frog, and now the drawbridge story. Pretty soon you will exhaust the entire fundy preaching repertoire.

  26. I have never heard this illustration before, but now that it’s been posted here, I expect the Google rankings for references to the story to increase, at which point some fundamentalist will say “that’s a great illustration!” Then, it will get passed by a badly typed e-mail somehow to my father in-law, who will suddenly use this illustration at least once a month in his sermons until someone in the family finally tells him to stop. And since my father in-law seems to have trouble with reading comprehension, he will no doubt mangle the point of the story as badly as that little boy was mangled in the gears of that bridge.

  27. Nathan, you’ve probably come across it on Snopes. That’s the only place I ever encountered it (thankfully!).

  28. I’ve never heard of this story, thank Jeebus. Honestly, I know I wouldn’t let my son die. And I doubt the pastor would either. Easy to talk that shit when that would never happen in real life.

  29. I’ve heard this one several times. It usually causes a few to cry. I guess I’m just too cynical.

    And Darrell if you have a list of saved vs unsaved I too would be interested to know which I’m on 😉 But having said list would freak me out more than Google’s data collection policies.

  30. I heard this once. Very dramatic. It took about 10 minutes for the preacher to emote the story. It was BS then, still is BS. It makes about as much sense as playing basketball with your kid on one of our many busy interstates.

  31. The story is acutally legit (though admitedly dramatized more and more and the years go on).
    It happened in 1937 over the Mississippi river. John Griffith took his eight year old son Greg to work. The train was the 1:07 Memphis Express carrying over 400 passangers. Though the details are certainly colored differently by different folks they actually do replicate the core truth of this horrible tragety.

    In my experience the illustration was overused terribly, but it still does not lessen the somber reality! It is heartwrenching to even image a parent being able to make such a sacrifice! It is easy to see why this is a ‘favorite’ illustration to pull the emotional heart string to press for an emotive decision.

  32. You mean that preacher lied to me when he told this one as a true story? Say it ain’t so, Joe! This isn’t true? Oh the humanity of it! To be lied to from the pulpit! Don’t tell me the story of the girl who was under conviction in church and wouldn’t go forward to get saved that evening and was killed in a car accident on her way home from church… don’t tell me that’s not true either! Surely the one about the girl whose father wouldn’t allow her to go the the altar at the tent meeting, then she got sick and just before she died was screaming for her father to pull her feet out of the flames… surly that one was true??
    Who can you trust these days if not the self-anointed man-o-gawd standing in the pulpit?! I am crushed, devastated, mortified and shocked, shocked I tell you! To think that these are mere manipulation techniques to increase the numbers around the so-called altar is just sinful. What will they do next? What won’t they do?
    There is not enough money in the world to pay me to sit under fundy-cult preaching ever again. To borrow an illustration, you can find dinner if you go through enough garbage cans but who wants to sift through all the rotten garbage to get to it. (Fundy view of the internet: My view of fundy preaching)
    I’ve got my surly on today.

  33. OMG, this is one I heard growing up too! It always made me wonder why would you even let your kid play in the gears…what irresponsible parenting! Also…what is it with so many of these illustrations involving killing children? It’s kind of sick, really.

  34. Jonathan, love your blog keep it up. I wish I could express my love for Jesus like you do… i.e #170. I might even read them all.

  35. No traumatic memories of this one – threatening children with eternal damnation is MO for Fundyland. We were laughing at Fundyland last night in Bible study. “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d be?” Yeah. Dead.

  36. @mel – even the 1937 version is suspect since there is also a similar tale of the drawbridge keeper/railway switch operator hearkening back to 1888 in Prussia.

    But, yeah, thanks Darrell for closing the gaps on this one. Or is it opening the gaps?

  37. “Surely the one about the girl whose father wouldn’t allow her to go the the altar at the tent meeting, then she got sick and just before she died was screaming for her father to pull her feet out of the flames… surly that one was true??”

    I’ve heard that one too (not in person). “True Story” as told by Benny Beckum AND Phil Kidd. She must have been at both their “revivals” on the same day.

  38. The Snopes Glurge gallery is full of stuff like this. For instance:

    -The same man posed as Jesus AND Judas in Leonardo da Vincis’s painting of the Last Supper
    -A mother bird sacrificed herself to save her chicks during a forest fire by covering them with her wings/body.
    -Various people were protected by angels who appeared as warriors/soldiers/bodyguards. Sometimes, the number of angels directly corresponds to a certain number of people who just happened to be praying for them at that very moment.

  39. @Rob:

    I believe this formulaic prayer will suffice (not being a Fundy I cannot offer any assurances):

    Dear Dead Child: I believe your Dad killed you to save those people. Because your story is such a tear-jerkin’ good illustration, I ask you to come into my heart so that I can go to heaven with you one day without being crushed by the gears of a bridge. I believe in my heart and now confess with my mouth the Crushed Child and I am now eternally uncrushed!


  40. From a very long article written by a man that was “blessed” by the preaching of “dr” Benny Beckum. Beckum’s sermon series was titled “Is Your Salvation Real?” and was a series of doubt filled rants about works..

    But there was this illustration.

    — What follows is a quote from Benny Beckum’s Sermon “Is Your Salvation Real”.

    “There was a young girl in Georgia who was saved recently, who was saved in a meeting
    just like this. This actually happened under Holy Ghost conviction, she said to her daddy
    who was standing by her, and she said “Daddy, the Holy Ghost is convicting me of my
    sin; I’m going to go down and get saved now.” He pulled her by the hand and said “no
    you can’t go”. You tell God “NO”, you tell God to leave you alone. This girl did what
    Daddy told her. When I heard this story, my heart just broke in two, for the preacher that
    was telling it knew the girl, knew the daddy. It wasn’t long after that the girl got sick, got
    sick, ….. she is was in bed, doctor came over and walked out of the room after checking
    the young lady, and said to her daddy, he said, “She won’t live long.” The day that this
    young lady died, she said to her daddy, “Daddy, my feet is getting warm. Daddy I am
    scared, Daddy my feet is getting warm, I am scared.” He said, “Honey, cry on God!,
    Call on God!!, Call on God!!” She said, “Daddy, I can’t, you told me to tell Him to
    leave me alone, and I did, and I don’t have any desire to call on God.” {Long Pause} I
    would not want that on my heart.”

    — What follows is the Authors commentary

    WHAT!!!??? That is one of thee most ridiculous, embellished stories I have ever
    heard a preacher tell. This allegedly true “story” (which is littered with doctrinal error),
    is about a young, sweet, innocent girl who wants to get saved at a “meeting just like this”,
    when her father tells her “no”. A short time later, as she lies petrified on her death bed as
    she is slowly being lowered into hell (feet first). She has no desire to get saved anymore
    because her dad told her “no” before.

    The implication that Dr. Beckum is trying to drive home by telling this
    preposterous story is that if you are having doubts about your salvation (which means you
    are not saved, according to Dr. Beckum), then you had better get saved tonight or else
    God will never give you another chance; you also had better not be like that father and
    discourage someone from getting re-saved. In other words “don’t you dare question what
    I am preaching or else you may end up discouraging someone from getting saved. They
    will never get a second chance, and they will go to hell”. It is nothing short of trying to
    pressure people into coming forward to get re-saved by misrepresenting God with
    some nonsensical narrative.

    The account also completely contradicts itself, further proving its absurdity. Dr.
    Beckum actually begins the story by saying that “there was a young girl in Georgia who
    was saved recently, who was saved in a meeting just like this” and then at the end of the
    story he says that she is not saved, that she has no “desire to call on God”. [No, it is not a
    transcription error on my part] Was she saved or wasn’t she? If in fact she were saved,
    as he states at the beginning of the story, his entire (unbiblical) line of thought is
    destroyed. Such contradiction happens when one exaggerates/lies/makes-up stories to
    support an unbiblical agenda. The Bible does not support such erroneous reasoning; Dr.
    Beckum, therefore, is forced to concoct experiences to affirm the false teaching in the
    minds of unsuspecting listeners.

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