By Bill Knott
“It’s enough to make grown men and women gnash their teeth, for we have it as a rule of what we call our ‘faith’ that everyone is needed in a crisis. ‘All hands on deck’ the Navy motto goes when calamities require every resource and could-be sailor possible. At minimum, we mutter, Jesus could be bailing water with us. He should be manning oars or hauling down the broken mast. Because we are having an emergency in our lives, we assume He should be having an emergency in His.
“But still He sleeps—no, actually, He rests—within the hollow, not of a boat, but of His Father’s hands. And while He dreams of thousands He will feed and bodies He will heal and eyes He will cause to see, we feel our helplessness and panic transform to caustic indignation. We now blurt out what once we only dared to think: ‘Don’t You care if we perish?’
“‘This is my job, Jesus, that I’m losing. How will my family eat?’ ‘This is my neighborhood the typhoon destroyed. How can we ever rebuild?’ ‘This is my wife, my husband—the one you gave to Me—now in the hospital barely able to draw breath, unable to communicate.’
“These are the questions born of fright, but they seem deadly urgent. Faith in this moment seems akin to ‘God helps those who help themselves’ (and other unbiblical ideas). We insist that the answers to our crisis lie in the means we have at hand—in stabilizing a capsizing boat, in bailing water, in keeping oars in oarlocks.
“We can’t imagine One who rises from His rest to stand there in the filling boat and call the winds and waves to heel. We cannot see that He who slept in innocence has in His hands a vast omnipotence. His answer is beyond our sinking imaginations, for He controls the very forces we have deemed most deadly: ‘The waves and winds still know His voice, who ruled them while He dwelt below.’ He knows that, terrible as it is, this storm is not the biggest one that will yet invade our destinies.
“‘Whether the wrath of the stormtossed sea
Or demons or men or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies.’
“And the calm He creates, and the gentle lapping of the waves upon the suddenly stable boat are as surprising as the storm that swept down from the canyons. The pain and tension of clenched muscles and clenched minds gradually subside as we are now overtaken by a new and righteous fear—or rather awe—the fear another dull disciple once confessed in the bottom of another boat: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Luke 5:8, RSV).
“We sense again our deep unworthiness—not as the cause of all that happened, nor as the ones whose bad behavior generated big storms—but how much we are held by grace, even in emergencies; especially in emergencies. He who shared the soggy bottom of a boat with 12 desperate, frightened men now shares the bottom of your boat as you peer over the gunwales at a world still threatening more illnesses and storms.
“Jobs will still be lost, and pets will disappear. Rebuilding houses and communities will be both hard and slow, and broken relationships will be healed only at the pace of humility and love. We will still grieve when dear ones breathe their last, or sink to places conversation cannot go. But we have seen the vital vision of a Lord who never leaves a sinking ship or turns His face when we are in calamities. Against the roiling waves and surly clouds, we see the silhouette of Him who has committed to bringing us to His eternal harbor. We now have this certainty that nothing ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 8:39, RSV)—not height of storm, nor depth of sea; nor crises now, nor crises yet to come; nor life cut short, nor death delayed; nor any other thing in all creation.
“‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal’ (2 Cor. 4:16-18, RSV).