The Fourth Man

A couple of years ago, I received as a Christmas gift an interesting book with full page photographs and maps of Antarctica. Just recently the book has become my just-before-bed reader. I was thrilled with the second chapter, “Marooned,” which depicts the perilous journey of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his escape from Antarctica in three life boats.

If you haven’t read the story, you can find it here.

In any event, the journey was more than most men would have dared to begin with, but it became something so difficult that only God could be credited for bringing them through it. The following excerpt gives a taste of what two of the men were thinking.

In his presence men felt the strength of Shackleton’s spirit in all these particulars. A statement attributed to the Antarctic geologist Sir Raymond Priestley — in 1956 — sums up the capabilities of the leaders of the three major South Pole expeditions: he recommended Scott for scientific research; Amundsen for swiftness and efficiency in attaining his goal; but in the face of adversity, with no salvation is sight, then the answer was to get down on one’s knees and pray for Shackleton.

I would add a footnote to this brief account of Shackleton’s success in saving the men on Elephant Island. Both he and Frank Worsley, writing independently — and at different times — about their hazardous winter crossing of South Georgia’s totally unknown glaciers and high peaks, tell of a strange phenomenon each experienced on the journey. You will remember there were three men in the mountain party — yet both Shackleton and Worsley speak of a fourth member: of sensing the presence from time to time of an invisible companion lending them support and guidance on this last and crucial leg of their incredible journey.

Graham Collier, Antarctic Odyssey, (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1999), 33.

That makes me think of the fourth person in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego (Daniel 3:24-25). Whether or not Shackleton was a Christian, I am unsure. I recall him having a Bible and mentioning the name of God. In any event, it would seem that God helped them through this incredible difficulty in a miraculous way.

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