jQuery Slider

You are here



by Ted Schroder
September 16, 2007

Fear is a terrible feeling. When we are afraid, we tremble, we cannot sleep, we worry, we are at the mercy of the implacable circumstances of our lives. Keeping calm in the face of danger is an achievement of the highest order. Both emotions are on display one evening on the Sea of Galilee. What started out as a leisurely boat ride turned into gut-wretching terror when a furious squall suddenly came up. In the midst of the storm Jesus was fast asleep, resting comfortably after a busy day. The disciples were bailing for their lives, trying to stay afloat. In desperation, these experienced fishermen awoke him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" They expected him to join them in the efforts to save the boat from being swamped. Instead, he stood up, and rebuked the wind and the waves, "Quiet, be still!" Immediately the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:35-39)

This is the account of the physical miracle of the stilling of the storm. It is impossible to believe that a man could command the wind and the waves. In a celebrated incident in history, King Canute, eleventh century king of Denmark, Norway and England, despite his power and the flattery of his courtiers, demonstrated that he could not command the tide to stop rising. Yet Jesus had this calming effect on the wind and the waves. Yet his action did anything but calm the fears of his followers. "They were terrified and asked each other, 'Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!'" They recognized that the miracle demonstrated something extraordinary, something beyond nature, was at work in the person of Jesus.

The nature miracles offer profound clues about Jesus' full identity as the creator Son of God. Divine power is at work in a special way through Jesus. Jesus has power over the forces of chaos that threaten their lives. He demonstrates that he can preserve them from the destruction of the storms that will break over their lives. Nature here is representative of the forces of evil, of Satan and all his works, who would destroy Jesus' followers and their faith. In John's vision of the new heaven and the new earth, the sea is no more (Revelation 21:1) Jesus manifests the power of God, to conquer the powers of darkness, that fill us with fear.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,

and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2)

We live in a fallen world beset by powers of chaos that are out to destroy us. Life is unpredictable. 9/11's do happen. Cancer strikes. Accidents happen. The stock market nosedives. Recessions threaten. Marriages collapse. Children let us down. Fear stalks us.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a high-stakes trader, and author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. He makes the case that "Our world is dominated by the extreme, the unknown, and the very improbable (improbable according to our current knowledge) - and all the while we spend our time engaged in small talk, focusing on the known, and the repeated." This emphasis on the predictable leads us to make all kinds of false assumptions, about matters large and small. Before people in the Old World encountered Australia, all swans were presumed to be white. Then they saw a black swan. Our perennial problem, Taleb says, is our craving for certainty. We want to be able to grasp the future and graph it on a comforting bell curve. But as Yogi Berra once quipped, "It is tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

When we are taken by surprise, when a storm hits us, when all our carefully thought out plans do not pan out, when we face the unknown, when certainty is replaced by chaos, when we are mugged by life, when we find that we are powerless to help ourselves or to solve what we are facing, when all through life we have been able to cope, we are filled with fear. The actuarial tables do not always work in our favor. We can be on the losing side. We cannot always beat the system. The sand is running out on us. We don't have many options left. e.e. cummings expressed this reality: "King Christ, this world is all aleak, and life preservers there are none."

In the midst of our storms we may think that God is indifferent to our plight, asleep at the helm, or even absent. We panic, and bail for our lives. We think the worst. We catastrophize. Jesus did not just rebuke the wind and the waves, he also rebuked the disciples: "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

They had no need to be afraid. Jesus could rest assured that all would be well and that the storm would pass. He could sleep through the heart of the storm. His example is a lesson to us of how faith triumphs over fear. Yet despite calming the storm the disciples were still afraid. Why? "They were terrified and asked each other, 'Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him?'"

Their expectations were that when they awoke Jesus, he would help them save the boat from being swamped. They did not expect him miraculously to still the storm. They awoke him because they all feared drowning, Jesus among them. They protested his lack of concern. When he stilled the storm and rebuked them for their fear and lack of faith they were startled and terrified. It was not the storm that then filled them with fear, but the calm. They realized that they were in the presence of great authority and power. It revealed to them that there was no need to wake him.

As Campbell Morgan put it: "the deeper thing they learned was this; that no storm can wreck the program of God; that though all hell be let loose, and though it have power over elements, and events, and the hearts of men, and the passions of the world, to stir them into storm, and wreck the apparently frail boat where Christ lies asleep, it is all useless. If He be there, all is well....There ought to be no panic in the heart of a man, when he knows Christ. We may be sure that Christ is at the heart of every storm. He apparently sleeps in the hour of our anxiety...All such panic is unnecessary and unworthy. The Lord is at the heart of the storm, and we may rest in him, and smile at the storm. It was Jeremy Taylor who said that we are far safer in the middle of a storm with God, than anywhere else without him."

That is why St. Paul could say: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8,9) "Fear not" is central to the message of Jesus.

"Lord Jesus, by your own peace of soul, rooted and living in the eternal Father, serene in the hours of commotion and anguish, grant me your tranquility.

Be my life hid in yours;

let your fearless and imperturbable Spirit come and dwell in me.

You have said, I will give you rest: your presence is our peace.

Your Spirit is the donor of every good grace,

and, in all that he bestows, brings with him

your eternal purpose, your divine counsel,

your support and most ready help, your courage and your victory, your love.

Whom then, what then, shall I fear? Whom then, what then, shall I fear?

You who guides us in the calm will not leave us in the storm.

Eric Milner-White

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top