The Deadly Swamp of Sadness

Artax

Do you remember this?

There were a few movies that my sisters and I watched over and over growing up, and the Never Ending Story was one of them.  As a child (and still, as an adult), I loved to be outside.  I loved roaming the woods, climbing trees, playing sports and animals.  I have always loved animals.  Especially horses.  So every time I watched this movie, I cried at this point.  Atreyu (the boy) and Artax (the horse) are on their journey through the Deadly Swamp of Sadness and Artax gives up hope.  He gives in to the sadness and sinks into the swamp and dies.  The only way I got through the movie, as a child, was knowing that Bastian restores Artax back to life and Atreyu is reunited with him when he recreates Fantasia through his belief at the end of the movie.

William Cowper was an English poet that lived in the 18th century.  He knew the Scriptures and had a unique awareness of his sinful state and slipped into deep depression knowing that he was damned and beyond hope.  At the age of 28, he unsuccessfully tried to kill himself three times and was diagnosed with a complete mental breakdown, landing himself in St. Alban’s Insane Asylum by the age of 32.  Fortuitously, Dr. Nathaniel Cotton was his attending doctor who happened to be an evangelical Christian who offered hope to William regularly.  Six months into his stay at the asylum, Cowper found a Bible on a bench in the garden and read John 11 and observed, “so much benevolence, mercy, goodness, and sympathy with miserable men, in our Saviour’s conduct” that he began to feel hope. His observation of Romans 3.25 led him thus:

“Immediately I received the strength to believe it, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fullness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel.”

In 1965, a year and a half later, he left the asylum and began service to the Lord by which he penned many hymns and poems which are still well known today.  Though he experienced salvation, relief and comfort from the Lord – he wrestled with depression the entirety of his life.  But God gave him hope, and he wrote songs like this:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread,
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

Have you ever felt hopeless?  Have you wondered what there is worthy in this life for living?  Have you sunk, or maybe just had your foot sludged into the Deadly Swamp of Sadness, or become so aware of your wickedness that you despair even of life?

I am not a counselor or a psychologist.  I do believe that there are chemical imbalances that can and do lead to inexplicable despair and hopelessness for some individuals.  But I also believe that it is necessary that we all reach a level of hopelessness to understand grace and to receive salvation.  William Cowper could have had a chemical imbalance that haunted him for the entirety of his life, but he was also keenly aware that nothing that he could do in-and-of himself was good and that his just dessert was Hell.  And therefore he did not consider life worth living.  There was nothing in the temporal world that could satisfy him or satiate his longings.

Except God.  By grace.  Through faith.

Oh that we would all embrace our sinful state so fully!  Scripture says that all have sinned (Rom 3.23).  It also says that the punishment for sin is physical and eternal death (Rom 6.23).  There is none righteous, none that seeks God and nothing we do is good, apart from God (Rom 3.10).  Do we believe that?

But we, as Christians, should be the most hopeful of all of humanity!  Because while we know that we are sinners, we are a disgrace, we deserve nothing…we have a hope!  Eternal glory with Almighty God by redemption through Jesus Christ!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

 – Eph 2.8-10

It is not of you.  It is not of me.  We are not saved on any merit of our own, there is nothing I can do to earn favor with God.  It is a gift; I cannot buy it.  It is by grace; I cannot earn it.  It is fully of God alone that He vindicated his own righteousness by offering Jesus as the propitiation (the removal of God’s wrath) for us.  He does not excuse sin, he punished it on Jesus’ head.  And it is through this act of love that we can be forgiven and counted righteous in His eyes.

So let us cling to God’s grace when we feel tempted to despair.  If the enemy says, “You are not worthy”, we can fully agree with him.  I am not worthy.  But Jesus is.  And He covered my sin.  And I am in Him.  It is not of us, so let us die to ourselves and be made alive to God through Christ.

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