In James Cameron’s 1989 film “The Abyss,” a group of petroleum engineers is enlisted to help search for a lost nuclear submarine that was ambushed in some of the deepest waters on Earth. This team of civilians is already far underwater, cozily inhabiting their submerged oil drilling platform, the DeepCore. To recover the nuclear warheads from the sunken submarine, however, they’d have to go deeper.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers—though, come on, it’s been thirty years—but at the end of the film, after a whole lot of action and danger and at a point when the engineers themselves thought they would perish underwater, the DeepCore suddenly rises to the surface within a matter of a few minutes.
I’m no scuba expert, but I know this feat to be quite impossible. Unlike raising the pressure, which can be done as quickly as your ears can adjust, decompression must be done very slowly. After a prolonged stay at 1,750 feet, the crew’s decompression time should have taken weeks.
And yet, against all odds and after being stuck in the cold, dismal darkness of the deep sea, where it seemed no light or hope could ever shine, the DeepCore and its crew are raised to safety. Upon opening the rig door to the warm light of the sun, one survivor makes a baffled observation:
“We should be dead. We didn't decompress.”
This was a group of people who had lost all hope. They were stuck at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by thick and unwavering darkness – feeling alone, afraid and forgotten by the world. Their mission had all but failed, their rig had been damaged, and they were literally running out of air. Here was a team of brilliant minds, yet even they couldn’t engineer a way out of this whale of a situation.
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever. (Jonah 2:5-6)
We should be dead. But they weren’t. Only something greater than they could save them; something which commanded not only the DeepCore’s fate, but all reaches of the ocean itself. It was only by this otherworldly force that the crew was brought to surface and given new breath of life – and it was only by this miracle that they were able to survive the journey to the surface in the first place.
Now, “The Abyss” is one of my all-time favorite movies. The drama, the high stakes, young Ed Harris, the mystery and excitement of unfamiliar, underwater territory – I have long since been fascinated by this film. It was only after watching it again recently, though, that I began to see the plot and its struggling characters in a new light.
Truth is… I began to relate to them.
No, I’ve never been stuck at the bottom of the ocean on a stranded oil rig (and I don’t plan to be, that sounds terrifying). But I have walked through valleys in my life. I’ve had moments in the darkness of the bottom of the ocean – one filled with doubt so thick, I had all but convinced myself that no light could possibly reach me. And even on the days when I did manage to see a faint glimmer of the sun through squinted eyes, I would think: the surface is so far and I am so weak. How can I ever reach it on my own?
Here’s the thing: I can’t. But Jesus? He already did.
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)
Jesus Christ faced the ultimate sorrow as he carried his own cross up the hill and allowed himself to be crucified amid hurls of insults and abuse. He felt the greatest abandonment as he cried out in a loud voice from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:33). And finally, after hours of excruciating pain and sadness, our Savior experienced the deepest darkness as he took his last breath, gave up his spirit, and died. For us.
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:22-23)
But you and I know this death wouldn’t last. God raised Jesus from the dead, “freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). By rising from the dead and emerging from his tomb, Jesus fulfilled the sign of Jonah, providing a testimony to all future generations that he – and only he – is the Messiah.
“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:39-41)
We should be dead. The DeepCore crew should have been corpses, and Jonah should have perished in the belly of the water beast. But they didn’t, he didn’t – because now something greater than Jonah is here.
By his death, Jesus brings us into the light and out of the darkness. He raises us to new hope and new life from the depths of earthly sin and blackened hearts, encouraging us through his word and sacraments. And, though the journey is arduous, our Lord is with us every step of the way as we tread through these earthly waters and follow his light to the surface of his heavenly kingdom.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry. (Jonah 2:6,2)
The way I see it, without the hope of the Lord’s resurrection and the promise of his second coming, we are doomed to darkness akin to the bottom of the ocean – afraid, alone, blindly reaching for anything or anyone to help us as our air supply dwindles. There’s no physical, human way for us to fix our sinful souls ourselves, and we can’t possibly swim to the surface without the One who has already descended into the depths of hell and triumphantly arisen into his Father’s kingdom on our behalf. We’re too weak. Our inadequate hearts and muscles could not withstand the waves of Satan’s attacks. We just can’t do it on our own.
But we are not alone. We have certain salvation through the grace, mercy, love and power of one greater than Jonah, and greater than us.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. (Hebrews 6:19-20)
After realizing they should be dead, another survivor emerges from the rig alongside the first and mumbles, “they must’ve done something to us.” (Ok, you made it this far: it’s aliens. The force that saved the DeepCore crew is a race of underwater aliens who have been watching over humans from the dawn of time. I mean, it’s James Cameron, what did you expect?)
Just as the aliens did “something” to the DeepCore team, enabling them to survive the only journey that could save their lives, so too does our heavenly Father do something to us. He loves us, and he equips us with the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. No matter where you are at in your journey to the surface, may this truth give you spiritual buoyancy as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord!
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)