The oceans of the world are a great mystery, and within them are many dead: most were lost at sea, some were buried at sea. When one visits the battleship Arizona at Pearl Harbor, it is a place of respectful and awesome silence, much like at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Elsewhere, a shipwreck ought to be similarly regarded as a cemetery, left undisturbed except for legitimate archaeological, salvage or recovery operations. To ogle at the tragedy of a ship for its own sake is, one might hazard a guess, disrespectful of the dead.
There are many great prayers, songs and hymns concerning the dangers of the Deep. From the burial at sea, we have this:
“We therefore commit the earthly remains of [X] to the deep, looking for the general Resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, when the sea shall give up her dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”
And this stirring hymn: Eternal Father, Strong to Save (The Navy Hymn) – YouTube
And from the 19th century, which must be sung by a basso profundo: Asleep in the deep – Thurl Ravenscroft (Lyrics) – YouTube
Next to the Titanic, the Andrea Doria is the most famous of civilian shipwrecks, and was once called “The Mt. Everest of scuba diving,” laying in only 250 feet of water some 50 miles from New York. But its decaying hulk is now a death trap, crumbling, rusting and entangled with a great many trawler nets. Nearly 20 divers have died exploring this wreck, which is about 40% of the actual number who were killed in collision on that tragic night in 1956.
But the Titanic reigns supreme in shipwrecks, largely because of the irony – and many would consider it a Divine Warning – of man’s technological hubris. What happened in the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel was an attempt by man to overcome God.
Europe had been enjoying nearly a century of peace in 1912, yet was on the cusp of the horrors of World War I. The amazing technological progress that resulted from steam and electrical power, the unlocking of the world of physics – especially in transportation, radio and flight – imbued a false optimism that such power would never be used for evil, and ignored man’s fallen nature.
The opulence, size, luxury and grandeur of the “unsinkable” Titanic (a claim never made – nor refuted – by the White Star Line) could not even manage its first transatlantic crossing. The first-class passengers were a veritable “Who’s Who” of Edwardian indulgence and the illusory security of wealth: John Jacob Astor, whose drifting body was later recovered with over $2,000 in his wallet; presidential aide Archibald Butt; Harry Widener; and Benjamin Guggenheim.
Man wants to know, and we must assume that God placed this in our DNA as part of our human nature.
But wealth does not necessarily breed pride. There was also the humble Straus couple, who founded the world’s first department store; Edith Evans, who gave up her seat in the last lifeboat for a younger woman; and the blue-collar millionaire Molly Brown, who became a legend by commandeering a lifeboat from a cowardly helmsman.
At 12,500 feet into the depths, the ship lays beyond divers, but not outside of the realm of submersible vehicles. The bathyscaphe (now called a “submersible”) Trieste reached the ultimate depth of the ocean in 1960 at the Marianas Trench, about 35,000 feet … three times the depth of the Titanic. The pressures there are beyond comprehension, but one wonders, if the technology of the early 60s had been able to perform such a feat, why the tourists of today suffered the horrible but instantaneous fate of implosion.
When Robert Ballard found the wreck in the 1980s, it was a sensation. The robot vehicle took amazing photographs, and it would only be merely a matter of time before a bathyscaphe carried wealthy passengers to the depths.
But why? Is it a spiritual experience? Like space travel, the case can be made. We are all spiritually on board when astronauts explore space, and share in the angst when they die. Man wants to know, and we must assume that God placed this in our DNA as part of our human nature.
ALASKA WATCHMAN DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
The challenge for us – spiritually – is to discern when such curiosity becomes unhealthy, even sinful. I have visited Pompeii twice, where the ruins of ancient Rome are easily visible, a result of a similarly famous tragedy. But I went as a history teacher, to take photos and make the past come alive for my students, so to help them ponder the unchanging ways and errors of our humanity.
There is an apocryphal story that as the ship was readying for her maiden voyage, someone was heard to say, “God himself could not sink this ship.” If it is true, one remembers the words of Christ: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”
That the lost five wealthy tourists were curious is beyond dispute. Their motivations are for God to judge, not us, just as were the 1,517 passengers who lost their lives in the fearful, freezing … and crushing waters of the Titanic.
The views expressed here are those of the author.