Is God Sleeping?
Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Sundays
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35–41)
You can picture the scene, can’t you. The storm whipping up in the hills around the Sea of Galilee and then descending on the water. The white tops of the waves fly around the surface of the water, and bash against the side of the boat. Water is flying about, and as the waves crash onto the boat they also crash in. Panic rises with the water, and no doubt efforts to bail out the boat take hold.
These, you see, are experienced sailors. They know the danger of the Galilee storms, and the grave that is the watery deep. No doubt they knew fishing families who mourned men who never returned, and any other boat around them would be in a similar fix. No radio to call a coastguard. Here is simply a crew versus the elements. You know the feeling: all is going wrong, all is hopeless.
And I guess the recriminations begin to rise in the minds of those disciples. Why did Jesus want to go to the other side? Why didn’t they wait, why didn’t they try and work out what the weather would be. Here is real fear, looking death full in the face. Beneath them lay up to one hundred and forty feet of water, and they know what that means.
So why on earth, when they shook him awake, did Jesus tell them off?
Now, you’ve got to feel for the disciples here. They are in real danger, and they know it. Jesus told them to set off across the sea, to make the eight mile journey to the other side, and there he is asleep on a cushion! A cushion! In this storm! Dozing!
Oh, have you found yourself in a situation like this? What do you do when God seems to be asleep, absent from you? What do you do when you pray, but no-one seems to be listening. Things are getting worse, and your prayers don’t seem to be heard. Wouldn’t you want to take God by the shoulders and shake him? Wouldn’t you want to go to Jesus asleep on the cushion and wake him up?
So why did Jesus respond like he did: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”. Surely being fearful in a storm is the sane response!
Well the clue is in his question: “Have you still no faith?”. You see, at the heart of the issue was their faith in Jesus. He had said that they should go to the other side, and to the other side they would go. Storms may break, and the going get tough, but they would get there. More than that, he himself was with them and - as we saw - could still the storm with a word. He was not concerned, as the cushion bore witness. If God is with you, even if you are being buffeted by the storms of life, you have nothing to fear.
And God is always with you. He is in all places.
In the end faith is the key to living a life which is free from fear, even when circumstances are grim. Your fear may say you will drown, but your faith reminds you of the God “who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves” (Psalm 65:7). Fear says God is doing nothing, but faith says: “wait, be patient”. Fear says you’ve been abandoned, faith says God is present.
Faith is belief put into action, it is active where belief can be passive. Faith is trusting that when Jesus says “let’s go across to the other side” you will arrive.
As the waves stilled, and gently lapped against the boat fear did not leave the disciples. Mark tells us that “they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”. When confronted with one who could still the storm with a word, their response was the sort of wondering, awe-filled reverence which is summed up as the “fear of the Lord”. My goodness, if Jesus can do this then… Rather than fear the storms, they had a glimpse of who Christ is and what he could do. Like the description of God in Psalm 65, he stilled the roaring of the sea.
I wonder if they asked themselves: “could he be…”?
Oh Christian you will encounter storms in life, times when life seems to be sinking and hope fades in the darkness. This is when your faith counts, this is when belief has to be put into practice. In all places and at all times remember that Jesus has said to you: “I am with you always” and so he will be. Pray with confidence, and trust in the one who keeps his promises. You may think God is sleeping, but maybe something greater is in mind.