July 2, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 8:22-25.
One day he got into a boat with his disciples and said to them, “Let us cross to the other side of the lake.” So they set sail, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A squall blew over the lake, and they were taking in water and were in danger. They came and woke him saying, “Master, master, we are perishing!” He awakened, rebuked the wind and the waves, and they subsided and there was a calm. Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” But they were filled with awe and amazed and said to one another, “Who then is this, who commands even the winds and the sea, and they obey him?”
As we know, several of the disciples were experienced sailors and fishermen. Storms were frequent on the Sea of Galilee, so they would have surely encountered wild winds and white-capped waves in their years of sailing. So, why were they so panicked in this scene? Luke Johnson in The Gospel of Luke provides his own translation of the original Greek. He has interpreted this passage to read that Jesus and all the disciples with him fell asleep. That makes more sense to me. I can imagine being awakened from a deep sleep and momentarily disoriented and overtaken with fear and panic in the face of a fierce storm.
I think this passage is more metaphorical than factual, though. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that in the Hebrew Bible “watery storms were symbols of chaos.” I suspect we have all experienced times of chaos, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “utter confusion and disorder.” The disciples were understandably in a state of confusion about Jesus; he was beyond their understanding of what they had experienced in their lives. They listened with astonishment to his teachings, which upended customary ways of living; they witnessed his miraculous powers; they watched him challenge established religious authority; they knew he had a special relationship with God. He disordered the way they understood the world. Who was he?
They were searching in their minds and hearts for the answer to this question as they journeyed day after day with Jesus. “Where is your faith?” Jesus asked them. Faith in God’s protection? Faith in Jesus’ mission, which was yet go be finished? Faith in their own abilities to survive the storm? Faith in the promise of heaven? It could be any of those and more or all of them together. Jesus had a way of communicating layers of meaning.
What strikes me here is the opposition of fear to faith. I’ve often wondered how often the words ‘do not be afraid’ or its several iterations issue forth from God, the prophets, and Jesus. Maybe more than any other phrase. Fear undermines my faith. It tries mightily and sometimes succeeds in overcoming my faith at least for a time. I think that fear is the devil (whatever that is) that aims to dissuade me from the certain knowledge of God’s loving care and to subvert me from obedience to His will. It is when I am afraid that I refuse to expose myself to others as the person I am so that they can’t accept and love me for the person that God created. It is fear that keeps me from reaching out to strangers, particularly those who seem so different from me, with compassion. It is fear the compels me to hide when I have sinned. It is fear of suffering and of dying that keeps me from looking forward with anticipation to my reunion with God. Fear wants to blot out God.
The devil uses chaos, confusion, to divert me on my journey of faith. During those times I cry out to be saved, saved by anyone who hears me or who can read my heart. If I cry out to God, it is to ask Him to protect me from death. Sometimes I even like to delude myself into thinking that death can be postponed indefinitely. How many times have I recited the Nicene Creed, “I look forward in the life of the world to come”? Apparently, much of the time I don’t really believe that. I don’t want to suffer and I don’t want to die — just like the disciples didn’t want to drown in the Sea of Galilee that day. Jesus saw that their fear had overpowered their faith. That’s why he asked them where their faith was. He wanted them to face their fears and defeat the devil. He wanted them to surrender themselves to God. That’s probably the biggest challenge in my life — surrendering to God, believing that He will be with me in my suffering and in my dying, and that He will embrace me in the life to come.
John Sanford in The Kingdom Within has insightful words that resonate with me, “it is because of the crisis-bringing nature of the kingdom that it has the power to bring a storm into our lives….When this happens, an ingredient called ‘faith’ is of crucial importance, for with this ingredient one finds that the storm is not chaotic but is under the control of the higher Power of the Son of Man. The storm is great indeed, but the Power of God is greater, and all the turbulent events are under his authority as he establishes himself in the soul…. In this time of storm faith is essential. But this is not an intellectual faith that consists in giving assent to creedal doctrines; it is an inner attitude…a determination to know the One who is at the center of the conflict….[U]ltimately the power to withstand the storm…is the rock of consciousness of the Word of God.”
The crisis bringing nature of the kingdom. That is a helpful way for me to think about Jesus’ mission. It is continually bringing about a storm in my inner world, causing me to question my values and the way I live my life, prodding me to change. It is only by enduring in my search to know the Word of God that I can withstand the storm, that I can fend off the fear that the devil uses to separate me from God. Where is my faith when I am fearful? It is in surrendering to God, acknowledging that He is in control, accepting that a storm will precede the kingdom.