Who is this then, that even the wind and the sea obey him? – Who, indeed, is God, and just what do we really know about Him? Part of the problem that presents itself when we begin to think on that question is the cultural milieu in which we live. To a great extent, you and I are children of Renaissance and all that flows from it. Truthfully, I cannot be sure that David Hume (he of the Hume & Locke fame of poly sci majors everywhere) was the first to articulate the modern understanding of God, but his postulates about God have certainly been accepted as true by scientists ever since. Hume was adamant that God was orderly, rational, predictable and the like. Though he never explicitly declared science to be the true language of God, I do not doubt that he would have agreed with the sentiment. Like many of his contemporaries, Hume assumed that God had placed certain natural laws in place and could in no wise violate them. For him and those who follow his way of thinking, miracles were impossible because God could not contravene what He had ordered.
We see this attitude play out on cable television a lot during the week. This year alone I have watched terrible programs on the “discovery of Christ’s tomb”, one of David’s great victories (I forget which ite he conquered in the battle discussed), Sodom & Gomorrah, and on the Palm Sunday events (both Pilate and Christ entering Jerusalem at the same time). I say terrible for different reasons. Some archaeologists seem to have forgotten their own principles which are supposed to guide their inquiry. Military researchers simply discount what those who have survived to write about battles call the “fog of war.” And, the biblical narrative is simply dismissed as myth. Jesus of Nazareth, a rural section of the Roman Empire, could never have foreseen the events and leaders in Jerusalem conspiring to take his life.
The problem, of course, is their simple presence. Mark records a series of so-called nature miracles to help readers understand who Jesus is. The story from this week, the calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, is the first. As we have talked many times, most Ancient Near East cultures were afraid of sea. With the exception of the Phoenicians, most cultures that ventured out on to the waters of the Mediterranean tended to hug the coasts as much as possible. You and I, in modern boats and enough fuel, might choose to sail in a straight line from Egypt to Rome, but would we in a rowboat or sailboat? The waters of the big seas were terrifying. Storms blew up out of nowhere. Great big leviathans lived in their depths. Against the forces of nature, the powers of humanity seemed puny. Not surprisingly, the sea came to be viewed as the embodiment or child of chaos. Land could be irrigated, transformed, conquered for human existence. Water changed by the minute. Just when you had it subdued, along came a rogue wave or a storm!
In many ways, the storms on such seas came to remind human beings of the human predicament. We could fashion our lives with a semblance of control and then, boom!, everything was changed. In agrarian societies, plagues, droughts, storms, and the like could undue a lifetime of security. In trading societies, wars and political upheaval could undo all that an individual had accomplished. A great work ethic could be destroyed by any number of diseases. And all bowed, ultimately, to the authority of death.
You and I should have the same understanding. How many here had plans in their youth for other than we are living? Maybe you were ravaged by a disease, cancer or some other pernicious evil. Maybe the recent depression simple changed your economic situation or outlook. Perhaps the company you dreamed of retiring from was acquired and you were deemed “redundant” in the newly merged corporation. Most of us here have experienced the untimely consequences of a natural disaster such as a fire, a tornado, a flood, and we know what such disasters can do to the orderliness and predictability of life. And like those of old, we all lack an answer for death. Maybe our current situation is attributable to the untimely death of a loved one. Each one of us can certainly relate to the fear of the disciples and the frustration of Job in our readings today. Each one of us gathered here has learned, at some point in our lives, that our power is insufficient.
Fortunately, our readings this day do not leave us hopeless. In both the OT and the Gospel lesson, God reminds us that He has power over all things. There are no exceptions! And while we might wish that He would intervene in our stormy lives as He does for the disciples in Mark’s Gospels, His lack of immediate intervention is by no means a sign of His disfavor towards us. Quite the contrary! Because He has already demonstrated His authority even over death, you and I can face the storms of our life certain in the knowledge that He loves and cares for us, confident that our suffering glorifies Him, and secure that, in the end, He will redeem us. Put another way, our faith in Christ gives us a peace that this world does not know and cannot possibly give. You and I can face literal and metaphorical storms, natural and even supernatural enemies, certain that we are His children, inheritors of His promises and covenant.
But in that faith reminder, there are no promises of a life without storms. In fact, the opposite seems true more often than not. Job was a righteous man who followed God no matter what assailed him or his family, and if you have read the book, you know what Job suffered. Similarly, none of those early disciples and apostles described in Mark avoided the trials and pains of life, and many died the deaths of martyrs. Truly, there seems to be little in the way of worldly security when we choose to follow God. But then, that should not surprise us at all. After all, He was THE Suffering Servant, the pattern for our lives. But rather than focusing on our plight, we should focus on the One who calms the sea and the One who speaks out of the whirlwind. It is He who has bound our redemption to His glory, our salvation to His righteousness, our life to His eternal promises. And when it comes right down to it, only the One who fashioned the earth, set the limits for the sea, and created you and me can act to accomplish His will.