Questions on Faith and Doubt (May 5, 2019)
Luke 8: 22-25
Questions on Faith and Doubt
So we are continuing our series called “Jesus is the Question,” where we’re looking at the fact that Jesus asked so many questions in the Gospels and answered so few. We’re looking at what that means for us, both looking at the specific questions he asks, and just the idea that he asked so many questions. Today I’m going to be looking at a two questions really, one from Jesus and one from the disciples. And we’re really going to be focusing in on what they imply for our life going forward. Both questions are worth looking at.
The story begins with Jesus and the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus says, “let’s go to the other side.” So they all hop in a boat and go across the Sea of Galilee. Now, the Sea of Galilee is larger than your average lake, larger than say at Hillsdale Lake down there, but it’s not gigantic. For most of it you can see the other side at least relatively well. But it would take some time to sail across the Sea of Galilee, and that’s of course what they’re trying to do. So Jesus decides to sit down in the back of the boat and take a nap.
The other thing about the Sea of Galilee is that it is in the middle of two kind a smallish canyon type things, and so wind can pick up along the sea very, very quickly. And indeed it does very quickly and storms will fly up without warning. And they get caught in one of the storms. The storm is a major part of this story. And it is something that we have to look at, because we know what it’s like to be in a storm. At least I do; I suspect that that you do as well; what it’s like to be in a storm and certain that you’re going to drown, if you will. Shipwrecks happened often on this lake, it was a constant concern for those who made their living on the sea. It was not something that was irrational for them. And even though theoretically you could swim to the shore from anywhere in the lake, not all of them knew how to swim, and in a storm that just wasn’t going to happen: if you got tossed overboard in a storm you were dead.
Actually it was worse. Galilee also is at the middle extremely deep. We now with sonar can tell it is 141 feet deep. It is very deep. And there are those who believe that the people of the area believed that this was the gate of hell. You have a small lake that just goes down further than then you can can tell by sounding rod, a bottomless lake, and storms come out of the middle of nowhere on it. Easy to believe it possessed.
And so if you died on the Sea of Galilee, people believed it was a little different then if you just died normally; you’re sinking to the bottom of a bottomless lake that was the gates of hell. In fact, in both times that the story appears in the Gospels, the disciples’ question is some form of “we are perishing,” not just die, we are perishing. In Mark they ask “don’t you even care?” I think we can really get a feeling of where the disciples are because we have been there at some point in our lives. We have that “don’t you even care about me Jesus” moment. That “my God, my God why have you forsaken me” moment. That’s the moment we’re in the storm.
So what do they do? They are the disciples we are trying to be, so what are they doing? What we see is that they go to Jesus. And I don’t really think they were sure what to ask, they just go to Jesus, they say the problem, and beg for help. And sometimes that’s all we need to do when we are in life’s storms: just go to Jesus, state the problem, and beg for help. Of course, the scripture also says the boat was filling up with water, so I’m inclined to believe that the storm didn’t appear and three seconds later they’re waking Jesus up to say “hey there’s a storm, what do we do?” They’re treating Jesus as a last resort. They tried to deal with it on their own for a while. They tried to scoop the water out of the boat. And only when that failed do they go to Jesus. Somehow I find that relatable to my life as well. And I think that’s what frustrated Jesus.
Jesus wakes up and rebukes the storm with a word, and everything calms down. Then he turns to the disciples and he says “where is your faith?” I can hear the frustration on his voice even through that the text. It just seeps out of the page. This isn’t the only time he asks that question. At another time in the Gospels, the disciples are are trying to throw out a demon and they can’t do it, and they have to go to Jesus. And Jesus responds by asking “how long do I have to live with this faithless generation?” Spoiler alert: it’s been at least 2000 years we’re still going on the answer that question; more than that if you count pre-Jesus. You can feel his frustration in these moments; frustration that the disciples are not going to him, that they’re not going to God, first.
But there are also moments that he praises them for their faith. And there are moments that he predicts great things that they will do. And they don’t really lose that humanity aspect, and God knows this about them, yet they do wind up doing those amazing, and wonderful, and powerful things in his name. We can feel like God is frustrated with us. Sometimes we can feel like we are frustrated with ourselves. Sometimes when we fail on the faith thing, especially in the storms, it can feel like we have no faith. But I want you to remember this today: Jesus was incredibly frustrated with the disciples, incredibly frustrated with them, and he still calmed the storm. Even with their lack of faith he still calmed the storm. Furthermore he calmed the storm first. He didn’t feel the need to yell at them in the midst of the storm. And then hear this other thing: even though he was frustrated with the disciples, he stayed in the boat. He didn’t trade them in for other disciples. He stayed with them, flawed and all.
The other question we’re looking at today comes from the lips of the disciples, and that is “who is this that even the wind and the and the storms obey him?” They don’t actually know what to do with what Jesus had done. One thing to remember is that they didn’t actually ask Jesus to do that. They’re words are more like “help us! Are you just going to sit there while we all drown?” What are they really asking him to do though? They were not, I don’t think, asking him to get up and rebuke the waves and calm the storm. They were asking him to get up and grab another bucket and start shoveling some water out himself. At this point in the Gospel, I don’t believe they believe him to be the Messiah yet. They probably think him to be special, maybe a prophet, but maybe not the Messiah; not special enough that he’s able to control the weather.
And when Jesus does control the weather, when Jesus does calm the storm, they respond exactly how humans respond to something like that: they are fearful. They are in shock. They are in wonder and amazement. They don’t know what to do. This is actually a very common response in the Scriptures to the power of God being on display. All the way back from Abraham or Jacob when people see the power of God they respond in awe or fear. Or at Mt. Sinai, when the people of Israel ask Moses to go up into the cloud on his own so that they do not have to be near it. You see in Isaiah that he is trembling when he comes to the throne of God. You even see it in Revelation when John goes to heaven and he’s afraid. It is a very common response to witnessing the glory and power of God. But, they also stay on the boat. Now, they couldn’t leave the boat quite as easily as Jesus; he could’ve just walked across the lake. But they stay in the boat and at the end of the day when they get to the other side. They are afraid of him. They are in awe of him. They don’t know what this is. But they stay with him.
Faithfulness is not about having all the answers. Faithfulness is not about being perfect at every moment. Faithfulness is not about not making mistakes. Faithfulness is about staying in the boat no matter the storm. Faithfulness is about staying in the boat even when everything within us is screaming to jump in the water. That’s what we learned today.
Of course after Jesus calms the storm, after he rebuked the water (something we all wish Jesus would do more often for us I think; at least I do), we have to recognize that life wasn’t perfect for them after that. You have to wonder, if their faith wasn’t strong enough before, was the faith any stronger after Jesus did this? We know that their faith grows eventually because they become the apostles; Peter becomes the rock upon which the church was built. But not immediately. I don’t think that things magically changed for them in that moment. They had to grow their faith over time. Things change for us as we grow too. And each time we come to Jesus in our storms, each time we come to Jesus with our doubts, that idea of going to Jesus becomes a thought that happens a little bit earlier in the process. Our relationship to Jesus grows a little bit more, and a little bit more, and a little bit more.
There’s still one question that needs addressing, even though I don’t really have an answer to it; and that is this: did Jesus know the storm is coming? Jesus told him to get the boat and leave right now; and then he fell asleep. Did he know the storm was coming? What was he wanting to see; what the disciples would do in the storm? Did he maybe assume that they had a level of faith they didn’t have and that they would just know that everything was going to be OK because they were with him and therefore they were safe? We don’t know the answer to that question. Some sit in that question, and they focus for so long on that question and trying to answer it and then they come to some convoluted response. The reality is we don’t know what went through Jesus’ head in that moment. We do not know if he knew the storm was coming and wanted to test them. We do not know.
What we do know is that Jesus did not send them ahead. There’s another time that he does send them on a head, and then he walks across the water to them. He did not send them ahead this time. He was with them. He was in the boat. Even if he was asleep, he was in the boat. We know that even if Jesus sends us into the storm, which I don’t believe that Jesus sends us into every storm that we have; but even if Jesus sends us into some, we remember from the story that Jesus does not leave us alone. He does not send us alone. He is always with us. Rest in that promise: Jesus is in the boat. Stay in the boat. Amen.