Have you ever found yourself in a tight spot? One that appears dire and dangerous? One that provokes intense fear and frustration as pressures firmly outside of your control begin to constrict you? One that leaves you feeling abandoned and alone? I know I certainly have. In such circumstances, it’s easy to begin wondering whether God really cares, to assume that the apparent absence of immediate, tangible aid and intervention is proof He is not concerned. If God is truly our mighty, powerful and loving Creator – if He really sees everything – wouldn’t He have pity and use His immense power and resources to help me in my time of desperate need?
Such unsettling thoughts and queries seem very natural reactions to many of our struggles in life. Reactions that are, by no means, isolated to skeptics, scoffers, or unbelievers. David, a man after God’s own heart, expresses similar sentiments and concerns in numerous psalms as he wrestles with his own anxieties and trying circumstances. In Psalm 10 (a psalm traditionally assigned to David), he asks, “Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide in times of trouble?” In Psalm 44, Korah expresses his confidence and trust in the Lord but also acknowledges concerns regarding God’s apparent absence and apathy to Israel’s current oppression. In verses 23-24, he pleads with God to “Awake!” and asks “Why do you sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. Why do you hide Your face, and forget our affliction and our oppression?” These are often the very same emotions and questions that arise from our own troubling experiences. We wonder whether God’s really with us and if He even cares. So what are we to make of such times in our life? Is there anything to be learned from having to confront these questions?
Mark 4 records an account that many of us know quite well. After Jesus had spoken a series of parables to the multitudes, He boards a boat and instructs His disciples to launch out into the Sea of Galilee and head for the other side. As they sailed, we’re told a great windstorm arose so that the waves beat against the boat as it began to take on water. Although many of these disciples were capable mariners and fishermen, they quickly begin to panic as they assess their predicament. Despite undoubted efforts and countermeasures to salvage the situation and stay afloat, they soon realize they are in serious jeopardy and turn to their Master. But what they observe of the Lord doesn’t instill much confidence; nor does it rest well with these men in their frantic state. Despite the commotion and chaos of their surroundings, they find Jesus in the stern of the ship, asleep on a pillow. I’ve always wished I could see the expressions on their faces as they discovered Jesus in this position. Did they complain among themselves that this was His idea to come out here in the first place? Yet here He is, asleep! Regardless of this speculation, we get a pretty good indication of their emotions in verse 38. After waking Him, they ask, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
From what these disciples could observe, within the context of their dilemma, they conclude that Jesus must not care about their well-being. He’s asleep! He’s unaware! He’s unconcerned! This is a microcosm of many of our own experiences in life. When our surroundings become chaotic and perilous, we often focus on what we perceive that God isn’t doing for us. Like these disciples, we lose sight of the bigger picture. All they could see was that their Master and Teacher wasn’t affirming their concerns or helping them bail water. But Jesus knew they needed to see and understand something far greater. So, in verse 39, He arose and rebuked the wind saying, “Peace, be still!” causing the wind to cease and calming the troubled waters. After which He asks His disciples, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” Did Jesus calm the storm merely to appease His disciples’ request, so He could resume His nap? Did He just want to reinforce that He did, in fact, care? That doesn’t seem to capture the full intent. Jesus wanted them to understand and believe in who He truly is, the Son of God. That is who was in the boat with them. And it’s a message the disciples received loud and clear. While they had certainly been afraid of the storm, scripture says that after Jesus calmed it they “feared exceedingly, and said to one another, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!’”
It’s easy to read this account and assume that the lesson and comfort to be taken is the fact that Jesus calmed the storm, so He can calm ours as well. He eliminated the immediate threat and, thereby, soothed their fears. But the fact is, they were exceedingly fearful by what Jesus did because of what it revealed Him to be. The fact that Jesus, in the flesh, was in the boat with these men should have been evidence enough that God cared and was invested. He is, after all, the promised Savior and Messiah. He is Immanuel, a God-given name meaning “God with us.” He is the very fulfillment of this wonderful promise, that God is with us. Jesus came, died, and rose again so that those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. What an awesome and fearful thing God has done for us! Through belief and obedience in Him, God has also given us a Comforter – His own Spirit – to indwell us as baptized believers and His children. He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance. What a blessing and comfort! Whether the water is tumultuous or calm, we can rest assured that God is in the boat with us. And He will bring us safely home if we recognize and believe the very same truths about His Son, obey Him, and follow Him to the end.