“Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.”
The ups and downs, the hardships and pain of life have often been compared to stormy seas.
They come upon us whether we like it or not. They terrify us. They reduce us and like sea sickness itself our lives are turned inside out with retching pain.
The stormy sea is a powerful metaphor for all that threatens to destroy our stability and security. We don’t know whether we can survive their turbulent waters and depths that can swallow us whole. And we don’t know how long such storms will last.
As Mark tells the story, the disciples were terrified that the boat was going to break up and everyone would die. But Jesus was asleep, on a cushion no less, Mark notes, adding to the contrast between Jesus’ tranquility and the disciples’ panic, apparently oblivious to their pending doom. They wake him and cry, "Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?" (v. 38). Of course, Jesus quiets the storm with a word, but then he chides the disciples: "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" (v. 40).
Some of the lessons in the story are obvious. Jesus has power over the storms of life, experiences them alongside us, loves us, saves us from them and wants us to trust him more than we do.
But there is more for us to take from this episode than the illustration of a simple truth that Jesus will rescue us when we are in danger. Indeed this is the meaning we give to his dying on the cross an action in which Jesus saves us from our sin!
In the face of those who make the allegation that God does not care, that we are alone in this universe and have been left alone to make the best of things on our own, there is nothing in this episode to suggest that Jesus is absent. He is with the disciples, it is his silence that they struggle to understand. He is silent, apart from his content snoring on a cushion, his silence is not the same as absence.
The counterpoint of Jesus, who is calm and asleep not least, and his disciples, who are frantic with fear, is one that is all too familiar for us in our lives.
Just like the disciples we too wonder at those times in our lives when we find ourselves in the midst of a storm, whether or not Jesus is there, whether or not he cares about out struggles and fears. Indeed there are times when we like the disciples cry out in fear and wonder why he seems so slow to come to our aid?
But the truth that Mark in recounting this episode of Jesus’ life might be pointing to is that Jesus is not just in control at the end of the story when he bids the waves to cease and the wind to be calm, Jesus is in control as he is present throughout the whole episode.
The criticism that Jesus has for his disciples is that they doubted this, that they thought they were in peril when in fact this cannot be the case because their Lord and master is right there with them.
The psalmist shares our concern, that God does indeed seems asleep and uninterested in our plight:
Rise up ! Why Sleep, O Lord
Awake and do not reject us for ever
why do you hide your face and forget our grief and oppression? Psalm 45: 24-25
Maybe that’s why Mark included this story. The not-so-obvious lesson is that Jesus was just as much in control, and the disciples were just as safe in his hands, while he was asleep as while he was awake. Most of the time, life seems like a relentless voyage from one storm to the next. Faith in God will not immunize us from the storms of life, it is not a lucky charm that will keep us pain free and emotionally secure.
The lesson to trust in God at all times is brilliantly illustrated in the story of David and Goliath. Once again it clear that in the midst of the crisis facing King Saul and all his soldiers their faith in God wavers. Their fear paralyses them and they cannot respond to the defiant challenge of Goliath. That is until David appears, David who knows a thing or two about trust in God as he looks after his father’s sheep and when necessary wrestles with lions to keep them safe.
David, true of heart confronts the giant Goliath and proclaims his faith in the unseen God of Israel and brings him down with a small smooth pebble from the brook.
God is our refuge and strength
a very present help in trouble
therefore we will not fear, thought the earth be moved
and though the mountains tremble in the heart of the sea
thought the waters rage and swell
and though the mountains quake at the towering sea
Psalm 46 :1-3