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Saturday, 6 February 2010

With Jesus asleep in the boat

With Jesus in the boat,
we can smile at the storm,
smile at the storm,
smile at the storm.
With Jesus in the boat,
we can smile at the storm
as we go sailing home.

Do you remember that old children’s chorus? It’s based on the idea that Jesus stills our storms enabling us to sail serenely through life until we weigh anchor in heaven. But to read Luke 8. 22-25 in that way you have to ignore everything else that happens in the story in order to focus only on Jesus’ stilling of the storm which the song then makes normative for our Christian lives.

In other words, it ignores Jesus sleeping through the storm, the disciples' panic in the storm, and Jesus’ rebuke of them for their lack of faith. It would be a very different song if it took on board the rest of the story, maybe something along these lines:

With Jesus asleep in the boat,
we can panic in the storm,
panic in the storm,
panic in the storm.
With Jesus asleep in the boat,
we can panic in the storm
as we go swiftly under.

We don’t like the idea that God might be sleeping on the job while we are going through crises, so we naturally concentrate on the moment when Jesus saves the day and make that part of the story the part that we teach and remember. But to be true to scripture, we can’t simply pick and choose the bits that we like and ignore the rest. Instead we need to deal with all that is involved in a story like this and, when we do, then a very different point emerges.

Why is Jesus asleep during the storm? Presumably, he is able to sleep because he trusts his disciples to get him safely to the other side of Lake Galilee, even in the midst of a storm. After all, many of them are fishermen, experienced sailors, while he is, as a carpenter, a landlubber. The disciples know boats and they know the lake, it makes sense that he would trust them to sail safely from one side of the lake to the other. He trusts them enough that he can catch up on some sleep while they get on with doing what they are actually very good at doing. The disciples have skills and knowledge of sailing and Jesus expects them to use these and trusts that they will use them well.

The problem comes, of course, when they don’t use their skills and knowledge well. The strength of the storm is such that they panic and don’t take actions (like taking down the sail, bailing out the water, and steering against the storm rather than with it) which would have enabled them to ride out the storm and get to the other side of the lake. They made the situation worse by panicking and it was their panic which could have got them killed.

This, I think, is why they are rebuked by Jesus for lack of faith. Essentially, he was saying, “If you had trusted in God to see you through the storm, you would have done the sensible things that would have enabled you to survive. But, because you didn’t trust in God to see you through, you panicked, didn’t take sensible actions, nearly got us all drowned, and needed me to intervene to save you.”

God does not, and cannot, simply intervene to save us from crises and storms. If he did, he would take away our free will and we would be automatons rather than humans. John Shepherd, Dean of Perth, writing in yesterday’s Times put it like this:

“Why doesn’t God miraculously intervene, and take things over? Dictate how everything should go, and what we do, and how we live our lives?

But then, of course, we would have a world of fixed laws. Our lives would be totally regulated and controlled. We couldn’t decide anything for ourselves. We would not be allowed any choices, or any freedom of action.

So our lives would become non-lives ...

Knowing everything will be all right because God will make it so is no longer to have life.”

But, if God isn’t there to save us in any and every circumstance, what is the value and point of faith? Again, John Shepherd is very helpful in a way that links up with what we are discovering about this story:

“We all need someone to believe in. And we all need someone who’ll believe in us. Think of the number of times we’ve told someone we have faith in them — that we know they can do it, that they’ll achieve their goal, pass that exam, get that job, survive that relationship, recover from that bereavement. We tell people we have faith in them all the time. “You can do it,” we say.

“I believe in you.”

And it happens to us as well. Think of the people who have told us they believe in us. They gave us confidence. They told us they had faith in us, and they believed we could do it.

We know how important faith is, because we’ve known what it’s like for people to have faith in us. And we all have this faith, consciously or unconsciously. We’ve all given it, and we’ve all received it. We know what it is and how it works. Having faith in others, and others having faith in us, isn’t a sign of weakness or mental deficiency. It’s reasonable and logical.”

What we find through this story is that God has faith in us. Jesus trusts himself to his disciples by sleeping while they sail and expects them to act responsibly during the storm in order to keep them all safe and to survive. What annoys him is when they don’t do this, when they don’t trust in the skills and knowledge with which God has gifted them. He wants them to see that the skills and knowledge with which God has gifted them are enough for them to come through the storms of life. He has faith in them but at this point they don’t have faith in all that God has given to them. Later, after the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Day of Pentecost, they do develop such faith and go on to do great things for God.

“This is faith,” John Shepherd writes, “trusting in God without specifying what will happen. God has let the darkness be, so we may have life. But as well, God has given us Jesus, so we may have faith that the darkness will not destroy us.” God will not, and cannot, continually intervene because then life would be fixed instead of being free. So we are not to depend on God to save every time we encounter difficulty but instead to trust that he is with us in the storms of life and that he has given us what we need to come through.


The Call - I Still Believe.


Damon VSOP said...

I was reading this story out of a kids bible to my 5 year old and 2 year old this morning.

It stood out to me today and all morning I talked to God to show me "why was Jesus sleeping" I google it and came across your blog. I'm so happy I did. Thanks for the down to earth clarity of this article. I'll poke around at some of your other writings.

Have a great day!

Jonathan Evens said...

Glad you found it helpful. Hope you enjoy looking round the rest of the blog. All the best.