A Bulwark Never Failing

Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” in the 1500s in a literal fortress—the only thing that stood between him and being burned at the stake for his faith. The second line of that song is “A bulwark never failing.” Modern translations of the song use the word “stronghold” instead, which it does mean, but it also means something else.

In the movie “Ben Hur,” (the original with Charlton Heston), Ben Hur is made a slave and put down in the bottom of a ship with dozens of other slaves, all chained to the benches they were sitting on, forced to row. A man at the front of the ship would beat a drum to keep them all rowing in time. And multiple times in the film, the ship he was on encountered another ship, and they’d attempt to blow each other out of the water. This must have been before the Pirates of the Caribbean days of cannon and whatnot, because each ship would point the nose of their ship at the broad side of the other and try to ram it and sink it. That wall, along the broadside of the ship, either keeping you safe or not—that was the bulwark.

I don’t know about you, but I have this thing about sinking-ship movies where I have to literally remind myself to breathe. I can’t watch submarine movies, and I’ve never seen Titanic (I know how that one ends). When the water’s coming in and it’s rising up on the people inside… can’t breathe. Can’t watch. 

The bulwark then is the only thing between me and not breathing, having the water rise up on me, pouring in the sides, taking me down, chained to the slave ship I’m on. 

Imagine if you knew your bulwark would never fail.

I have depression, and it becomes physically difficult to breathe, a concerted effort to expand my ribcage and allow my lungs to fill. For years, my lungs would only inflate enough for a tiny breath, then another and another, enough to keep me alive. Not enough to breathe. But when I realize that no matter what comes at my life to ram me, no matter how high the waters are outside or how bad the storm, my bulwark will not fail—that’s when I get the first full breath in years. “This is the air I breathe,” (Breathe, by Michael W. Smith). “It’s Your breath in my lungs so I pour out my praise,” (Great Are You Lord, by All Sons and Daughters).

“A bulwark never failing.”