I read the story in Mark this morning, of Jesus calming the storm. I’m sometimes a little cynical when this story gets brought up… the same hesitation that comes up in me whenever people quote Jeremiah 29:11. I think we are often not careful with this scripture. I read and wrote and talked with God this morning, and hoped to see something clearly; I don’t want to get it wrong.
The disciples were afraid; real waves were about to capsize their boat. So they yelled at Jesus, at which point he rises up, shows his power as God to calm the storm, challenges his disciples’ fear and lack of faith – and, how do we usually end this story, in our minds? People talk about the storm being calmed, usually describe a scene of tranquility… but after Jesus rises and acts and speaks, look at the text: the disciples are terrified.
But now, it’s not fear of the storm. They no longer have reason to fear physical death, drowning in the angry sea. They stood in right, holy fear of Jesus. They were “afraid,” but after Jesus “calmed” things, they were terrified. Leaving them terrified of himself, Jesus asked, “why were you afraid of _________ [this earthly thing]?” He doesn’t just bring peace; he’s also reorienting their fear.
Why is this a good thing? Why, we wonder, would God have us fear him? I’m sitting this morning in the reality that as humans, we are going to fear… it’s going to happen. We are going to face situations that genuinely seem to merit our terror and despair and fear; real storms will come. My heart is feeling the weight and burden of how our lives are touched by death… Yet in that reality, the best news ever is that the God who loves us is the greatest thing we have reason to fear.
As his disciples face very real earthly danger, danger that could actually cost them their lives, I hear these words from Jesus’ heart… “You’re with the son of God. You may drown – yet what do you have to fear? You claim I don’t care if you drown… that’s the wrong thing to accuse me of. My Father doesn’t let a sparrow fall to the ground outside his care… do you think your life could end without Him caring? Without me caring? Why do you not have faith? Right there – how do you not trust my care for you? Why are you afraid? Even if the storm did not change, I want to reorient your fear and your faith. Only with me may you look death in the face… and you don’t have to be afraid. Do not fear, that I would ever possibly let your life slip away without the fullness of my care for you. Have faith in me; it will change how you face the storm. I who am powerful to calm the storm you fear, am the only one who you ought to stand trembling before… yet I will always whisper to you, do not be afraid.“
Father, I praise you for being unquestionably powerful over the storm. But I know that the point isn’t that you’ll quiet them all. We don’t put our faith in you never letting us be subject to a real storm. Oh God, I praise you that sometimes, as waves crash over the sides, as the sky is dark and the ship is capsizing – as perhaps we imagine you must be asleep somewhere, or worse, not caring if we drown – I praise you that we can know who you are. That faith in you, not in what we think you should do, changes how we face the storm.
If we understand this story to mean we should have faith that God will quiet every storm just in time, that disregards every situation when – when he doesn’t. If we think this story shows that things will seem bad, seem hopeless even, but that God will step in just before we are ever actually harmed – that’s not real life. That Jesus seems to still be sleeping somewhere, if he’s the one who’s supposed to be calming all the storms in this world.
What if the faith he calls us to in Mark really is faith entirely in Him? What if we believe that Jesus’ words, calling us to faith, actually interact with the disciples’ words: “Don’t you care if we drown?”
We affirm that God can calm every storm. He can protect us from every evil, every bit of pain, every heartbreak… we believe that because he says one day, life will be like that. We hold on to real hope that we will live that way with him, without the storms.
But… not yet. Jesus stepped onto earth and into a boat that was subject to real storms of the Galilee; real waves began to capsize a real boat, and the disciples were gripped with real fear of real death. That is the world we live in.. Our hope is that our God is at work, right now, in this world. That yes, he is calming storms, redeeming this broken world from terror and pain and death, advancing his kingdom with power.
But he’s not done… and that’s not all we hope in right now. Our greatest hope in every storm is not just that God will quiet it, right now. We groan, and waste away in earthly bodies, holding onto hope in him. There is no way for us to drown outside his care for us… He is not asleep, and he can never “not care.”
Knowing he can stop the wind and the waves – having seen his power in our world – that should leave us trembling before him, and him alone. Because that storm-calming power is oriented in love towards his people. We tremble in storms, not at the storms but through them, that Jesus can be sovereign over the storm and never fail in his love and care for us… that, even in losing our earthly lives, he is relentless in leading us to Life with him. We ought to tremble at the prospect that death is not to be feared as much as the One who holds power over death. We follow this Jesus through the storm, quieted or not, affirming that in this life,
“We always carry in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body…” (2 Corinthians 4:10-11)
The disciples were afraid; it seemed like Jesus might let them die, and not care. Jesus left them terrified; they realized, storm or no storm, life or death, they could make no claim that the God of the universe faltered for a moment in his care for them. Neither his love nor his sovereignty could be challenged by a stormy sea.
“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Now we know that if the earthly tent that we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile, we groan, longing to be clothed by our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, then we will not be found naked…
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we don’t wish to be unclothed by to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling – so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose, and has given us the spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Therefore we are always confident, and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord… We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8)
Even as we face death itself, may we fear only the One who swallows up what is mortal by Life… may we only ever tremble before the One who whispers, “do not be afraid… I am with you.”