Ever since last week when I stumbled upon a subReddit simply called Thalassophobia, I have been unable to shake the images there, or more specifically, the reason people have such an intense fear and obsession with the notion.
The term is relatively broad, as it can be used to refer to “fear of the sea, of sea travel, being in large bodies of water, fear of the vast emptiness of the sea, of sea waves, sea creatures, and fear of distance from land,” according to WikiPedia. I recommend browsing the page for yourself in order to get a better sense of what I’m talking about. I imagine that for most sane people, those images and videos will send shivers down your spine and make you repeatedly shout “NOPE!”
At least, they did for me.
I was wondering what it is about those images that cause such deep revulsion from most of us; why does this seem to be a universal human fear? Is it the largeness of the bodies of water compared to our small human frames? Is it the mystery that lies just beyond the foggy blackness where our vision stops? Is it a fear of what monsters could be living in that blackness?
Taken out of their aquatic context, most of these entities would not be nearly as terrifying. For instance, submerged planes and ships stir up their own specific set of tremors:
But pull that wreckage out of the water and suddenly it’s a far less terrifying piece of metal. Drying things off takes away the ethereal aura of their submerged context. This applies to coral reefs, marine animals, rock formations, etc. I’ve been trying to figure out why this is, and it’s a combination of the things I mentioned above, primarily mystery+vastness (and with vastness, the ridiculous amount of power that accompanies these bodies of water).
Think for a moment about the fact that water, even when it’s just sitting there in such massive quantities, is incredibly dangerous. There was an instance years ago where deep sea workers were burst into shreds faster than the blink of an eye due to a malfunctioning clamp. The water pressure tore them apart simply because of their misadjusted bodies to the atmosphere.
Think about that: there was no tidal wave or hurricane. It was the pure pressure of the water alone that killed them. When we gaze at pictures like those, much less when we submerge ourselves below the surface and face the immeasurable depths ourselves, we are beholding a force which, without even being in violent conditions, is beyond deadly.
Few things — in fact, nothing on this world has the same capacity to make us feel as small and powerless as the ocean does. A starry sky can have a similar effect, but it doesn’t pose the same imminent threat the ocean does. All it takes is a hair-sized slit in a tube for a scuba diver to drown beneath the suffocating masses of water above her.
Now think about this largeness in relation to God and the afterlife. I can’t help but think that He gave us these images of unspeakable grandeur to remind us how small we are and to reveal how powerful He is.
Not that God is the ocean; He is much, much bigger.
His depths are far, far deeper.
If we’re torn apart by the pressure of a few (million) gallons of water, imagine being buried beneath the pressure of the God who made it. All of it. The Psalm says that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, but perhaps more impressive is the fact that He owns the gallons of a million seas — and the creatures that swim around in their deeps.
I wonder if these images of unfathomable depths strike fear in us because we know we deserve this watery burial: We deserve to be crushed by a force so large we can’t comprehend it. Philosophers talk about the Big Other, and few things are more alien to us than the ocean itself.
Hell is wandering the base of the ocean eternally, crushed by its pressure yet kept alive, always in fear of the mysteries beyond the fog. Constant dread. Constant shrinking into overwhelming feelings of smallness standing against such mammoth forces.
Just like God, the ocean is both beautiful and terrifying.
Just as surfers can ride endless waves with an addictive joy, other humans are turned inside out by the same ocean. This idea has led many people to conjecture that hell is standing in the center of God’s presence and being in utter torment because of it. Those who know Him, however, stand in that same presence and are delighted.
Don’t fear the deep places if you know the One who put them there; it’s His voice which echoes through the blackest caverns of the deep and calls out to us to come and swim with Him. There’s nothing to fear when you are on the side of the unequivocal power.