This has been a stormy few weeks. My feelings have ebbed and flowed and have often changed without a moment’s notice. One minute I feel grateful for family time and a slower pace and the next moment I feel sadness about such significant loss around me. I feel fear about our financial future one minute and then a wave of contentment crashes around me at the simple ways our family is experiencing joy. I feel concerned about my parents, in-laws and other precious older friends and then thankfulness for another family meal around our table. Thankfulness for our family meal gives way to feelings of guilt and concern as I think about children a few miles away that may not have had lunch today. My own thoughts and feelings have been overwhelming.
If I am honest, my faith has also ebbed and flowed. There is a desperate desire to understand all that is changing and to have wisdom to know what to do. But I am afraid and I begin to doubt. We have been reading James as a family and I keep going back to the first chapter when James exhorts us to ask for wisdom from God. He says, “When you ask you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” This is me, being tossed about by the wind of information, of questions, of concern, of doubt, of unchartered waters. I (we) are not condemned by this verse. We are described. Right before the passage on wisdom, James talks about trials and how they function in our lives. They produce perseverance and maturity. So much so we are to be thankful for them. His letter assumes we will face trials and storms and we will desperately need faith and wisdom. But we doubt and we are afraid and we are tossed about.
In the fourth chapter of Mark we read about Jesus calming a storm. Jesus has just left a crowd and is on a boat with his disciples. He falls asleep. No doubt he is tired from a long day of teaching, healing, and extending compassion. A storm comes and the boat is almost overtaken by strong waves. The boat is tossed about by waves that have no regard for the frailty and value of human life they are holding. Somehow Jesus stays asleep below the deck, however, his disciples are wide awake and freaking out. They are watching these waves envelop the ship and are powerless to do anything. I had never really thought about the words that come next. The men go to Jesus and say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Let these words sink in for a moment. There are waves crashing, hope is being lost, and they question whether or not Jesus cares for them. It is a fair question. They don’t ask him to stop the waves, they don’t ask him to calm the storm. Their question is far deeper, “where is your love for us?” Their fear has (justifiably) given rise to doubt and they need Jesus to affirm that He cares for them. This storm is too much.
Whenever something difficult happens in our lives, when waves of suffering, death, or any kind of trauma come crashing around us our first inclination is to question God and His goodness. That is part of being human. I have seen many precious people, deeply loved by God, weather storms of every possible kind of grief. I have held people in my arms as they screamed out to God in anger or sadness or disbelief because of a loss endured. Sisters and brothers, we serve a God who made a way for us to ask these difficult questions of Him. That day on the ship, the disciples stormed into the stern and my guess is they yelled the words to Jesus, “Don’t you care if we drown?!!!!” They were most likely afraid, angry, sad, and confused. And they had complete access to Him. They were permitted to storm the ship, find Jesus, and ask and yell the difficult questions.
From the text we know that Jesus got up and commanded the waters to “Quiet! Be still!” And then, “it was completely calm.” He then looked at his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” These two questions Jesus asked are still the ones that define what it means for us to be human today. We are a fearful and faithless people. We are a powerless and imperfect people. And when storms and waves upend our lives, this truth becomes glaringly clear. But we can storm the ship. We have access to Jesus. We can cry and question and yell and hope. We can ask him to show us His love for us. He has made a way. We are not alone.
The last part of this passage is the part I cannot get out of my mind. “They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” It seems the disciples grew in their fear as a result of seeing God at work in a way they could not anticipate. All of the sudden that ship became Holy Ground. They experienced something that could not be explained. They saw a power and a mercy that caused them great fear. The Bible says they were terrified. It was fear rooted in an awareness of something beyond themselves. This experience happened because they stormed the ship. They ran to Jesus with all of who they are, their feelings, their doubts, and their livelihood. Then they experienced His presence in a way that terrified them yet saved them. That simultaneously secured His love for them and gave them great fear and an awareness of His wholly otherness.
When I pray through this passage I have a picture in my head. I am holding the hand of my 13 year old on one side and my almost 15 year old on another side. My husband is holding the hands of our 7 and 9 year olds. We are storming the ship. My husband and I are beseeching Jesus for answers and for hope and for His presence and we are taking our kids with us. I want to get them close…close enough to Jesus that they feel comfortable questioning him and close enough that we collectively see His presence at work. When we doubt and struggle, and have no faith, I want them to feel the freedom to rush in and ask for wisdom and for hope and to ask him if he cares for them and for those around us who are suffering.
There is no better weekend to think about the access we now have to the One who became flesh for us. Today is the day we celebrate/mourn/remember Jesus brutally taking blow after blow on our behalf. Because of this truth we have access to the Father of Hope and Healing. We can be afraid and not be condemned. We can have questions and not be condemned. We can have doubts and be tossed by the waves and trust that God will bring His great calming presence into our lives. And we can live out this hope and love by taking the hands of those we love and continue to storm the ship and ask God to care for us and to love us. Thanks be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.