Our underlying problems with God, for Christians and non-Christians, have little to do with our inability to believe, and everything to do with what we want. Our desires, passions and wishes drive our will and intellect.
Does God Care?
DON’T YOU CARE WE’RE DYING?
Mark 4:35-38 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 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?”
Is there a more important question to ask God? Isn’t this the crux of our own individual struggles when we’re in trouble or suffering? God, do you care?
How do you make burly, seasoned, fisherman quake in their 1st century sandals? Put them in a boat during a storm like this. The Sea of Galilee (also called Chinnereth lake) was eight miles wide and thirteen miles long. It was almost 632 feet below sea level and only 30 miles from Mt. Hermon which was roughly 9,200 feet high. The warm air from the sea would mix with the cold air from the mountain and create unexpected gale force winds which would rip through the valley and churn up the water and could easily capsize fishing boats.
These men knew storms, and their experiences prior to meeting Christ would have profoundly impacted their threat assessment. And so, as the winds howl and the waves break into the boat, they turn to see Jesus sleeping comfortably at the back of the boat. Seemingly undisturbed by the commotion, he sleeps. Jesus knows this is not how he’ll die. He knows His Father is trustworthy and can rest in the middle of chaos. There’s much which could be said just on that point, but we need to get back to the disciples.
Like us, when all else fails and the best of our experience and knowledge can’t save us, they decide to get Jesus. As they waken him, they tap into a question mankind has asked for much of its existence, “do you not care that we are perishing?” And, like the disciples, perhaps this question feels most potent when our feeble efforts to fix our life utterly implodes. And the existential question we’re all asking, even if we don’t want to ask it, is the same: God, do you care?
Listen, there are a thousand ways to approach such a question. Most of us assume this is an intellectual problem requiring an intellectual response. And that’s good. It’s a fine question to sit in a classroom or coffee shop with a group of friends debating and discussing the problem of suffering when it’s an abstract question. I’m not in any way against such a discussion. But let’s be honest. Most of us just like to hear ourselves pontificate in such a setting. And truthfully, philosophy and theology shouldn’t be done unless you’re willing to get a bloody nose–unless your skin is in the game, unless you have something at stake–you’re probably not ready for the answer. But life has a way of making us ask this question when it counts.
When we ask questions about the problem of evil and suffering, I can tell you there is a marked difference from undergrad students asking, “Does God care?” in a classroom vs. a parent whose 4 year old just drowned in their family pool; or whose loved one was just diagnosed with inoperable cancer; or whose family just lost their father in a car accident. To them, the question is no longer theoretical or abstract. It’s a life or death, will I rise or will I crumble?, kind of question. And it’s the theological splinter in our mind we must be prepared to deal with or we’ll be utterly unprepared, like the disciples, when our little ship is about to flip us in the sea.
So here’s your big chance to ask Jesus the question you’ve been wanting to ask. And you get to do it through his disciples and hear what he says. Are you ready? How does Jesus respond?
Why are you afraid? Don’t you trust me?
Verses 39-40 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. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
There is a troubling and purposeful economy of words here. When preachers preach or writers write we want an economy of words. When Jesus is answering the biggest existential question known to man, we’d prefer some elaboration. And yet, like the unpredictable sea, Jesus does the unexpected. Before He asks them this stinging question the text says: he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Right away our cultural sensibilities are ruffled. We have no problem with a counselor Christ who can empathize with our struggles and ease our emotional turmoil. We have no problem with the comforter Christ who can hold our hands and help us when we’re alone. We have no problem with the activist Christ who champions the cause of the marginalized. And those these things He does in abundance throughout the Gospels, but it’s the authoritative Christ who speaks seas still and makes violent waters like glass, that we struggle with. The One asking us about our fear and trust is the only One worthy of trusting in our fear. In fact, that’s the only kind of Christ worthy of trusting.
We need more than a philosopher who can scratch our intellectual itches. We need more than a friend who can hear our troubles. We need a King who can rebuke the winds and muzzle the seas. We need a Savior who will not simply build bridges over troubled waters, but will grab our hands and walk us through the raging river. And it is precisely in these vignettes and stories of Christ acting in power and love that answers our most significant questions. Don’t you care, Jesus? His response, “Shut up, wind! Put a muzzle on it, sea!” “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you trust me?”
Faith is like a muscle that must be exercised. And the truth is, most of us don’t like exercise. We want the benefits of trust: confident assurance, a proper self-esteem, patient endurance, and trusting humility, without the necessary weight resistance which builds that muscle. But the only way to keep from freaking out when trouble comes is by regularly experiencing trouble, and watching Jesus at work in the midst of it, again and again and again until trusting him becomes less reaction and more rhythm; until the sound and fury of the sea becomes less powerful than the words and work of your King.