‘Time is filled with swift transition, Naught of earth unmoved can stand, Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand. Hold to his hand, God’s unchanging hand; Hold to his hand, God’s unchanging hand.
Build your hopes on things eternal, Hold to God’s unchanging hand.’
In the 4th chapter of Mark, Jesus had just finished speaking and telling parables to the crowd and the disciples, when he instructs his disciples that they need to get into the boat and cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus got into the boat with the disciples, and as he was tired, fell asleep in the back of the ship as the disciples started to cross over.
Now, the Jewish people tended to fear the water and its power. They called bodies of water the “Abyss” or the “deep.” When one looks at the Book of Jonah, for example, it is remarkable that Jonah was so adamant against going to Nineveh to preach that he was willing to enter a boat to make the long trip to Tarshish. The disciples were amazed that Jesus could sleep through this. “Don’t you care that we are all about to die?” they exclaimed. They are afraid. Writer Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” The great poet of the Jersey Shore, Bruce Springsteen, sings, “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black you can trust. It can take a God- filled soul, and turn it to devils and dust.”
But being fearful while in a storm at sea is not exactly an irrational fear. This is why the “Jesus asleep in the boat” seems a bit unfair to me. If I were in some rickety first-century boat in the middle of a terrifying storm, with water rising around my feet, everyone panicking around me and Jesus in the front of boat taking a nap on a pillow, I’d be a little irritated. You can’t really blame the disciples on this one. You can’t blame them for thinking, “Jesus, why don’t you care that we are, you know, dying here?”. But I wonder if “Where is your faith?” is an invitation to reflect on what it means to be God’s people. Prosperity gospel thinking would have us believe that if we just have enough faith—or think positively enough—we will draw only good things to us. But life doesn’t work like that. Bad things happen to all people. Faith and/or positive thinking are not some kind of magic for a storm-free life. That’s not how faith works, and that is certainly not how God works. But faith is a way to find meaning in the face of pain and uncertainty.
Christians are people of hope, not fear. The practice of Christian hope points us to a life beyond this world, but it also requires us to act in such a way that models God’s coming kingdom. The Kingdom of God is characterized by the love of enemies, the welcoming of strangers, the belief in the human dignity of all people, a humble and self-sacrificial posture toward public life, and a trust in the sovereign God of the universe.
Fear is a natural human response to social change, but Christians betray our deepest spiritual convictions when we choose to dwell in it. And when we see others suffer, there is an opportunity for us to reach into their lives, and to give hope. Holding on to God might mean to be a friend and just sit in what is left. Holding on to God might mean to be the one with hope and belief. Waves of change and uncertainty might come, both in the church and the world around us but... Hold to his hand, God’s unchanging hand. God remains with us, our help in ages past, our hope for days to come.
Might we encourage one another in the days ahead and consider how we might offer hope to one another.
God’s Peace be with you, Will