“And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:38b).
It is easy to ridicule the disciples at this point, to see them in some sense as being quite dramatic. But the text does not tell us the ride is bumpy. It tells us that the boat is filling with water from the waves. If it were you or I in that boat, even if Jesus were in the flesh with us, nine times out of ten fear would trump theology. In a situation like the one described, terror is practically instinctual. In the middle of a raucous storm, boat taking on water, “We’re all gonna die!” is not a punch line. It’s a valid prediction.
And yet, Jesus is sleeping. Like the disciples, I can’t get over this. How tired do you have to be to sleep through getting knocked about in the stern of a jostling boat, getting water sloshed on you from the rising level in the bilge, let alone thunder and the frantic shouting of your friends? There is, in a way, something quite comic about this passage. And it makes the disciples’ question sort of humorous. I assume there is a level of anger in it, a smidgen of sarcasm added to the terror: “Don’t you care that we’re dying?”
Does that sound at all like any of your prayers? Does it at all resemble your theology these days? “This stuff must be happening because God doesn’t care about me.”
Two Temptations in the Midst of Difficulty
The cry of the disciples is as common as the human heart. Their question evinces two great temptations we face in the midst of any difficulty.
First, we are often tempted in trouble to equate worry with concern. Just as the disciples leap to conclusions about Jesus’s sleeping, you and I tend to get very frustrated when others refuse to get infected with our anxiety. I’ve counseled quite a few married couples, for instance, who have wandered into a communication standoff in part because the wife has mistaken her husband’s failure to mirror her nervousness as failure to care about the issues involved. Sometimes explaining the different ways men and women tend to process information and deal with stress helps to clear the air, as does encouraging husbands to be more vocal about their thoughts and feelings with their wives. But very often the essential breakdown comes from logic like this: “This is a very big deal. That’s why I’m freaking out about it. You must not think it’s a very big deal because you’re not freaking out.”
The reality is that sometimes people share our concern without sharing our worry. That’s a good thing. And it’s quite Christlike. Remember that worry is forbidden for the Christian (Matt. 6:25; Phil. 4:6) and that it won’t get you anywhere anyway.
And as in Mark 4, Jesus may come to your pity party, but he won’t participate. He will sit by you, loving you, caring about you, and overseeing all of your troubles, but he won’t for a second share in your anxiety unless you’re trying to get rid of it.
There is a reason the most repeated command in the Bible is “Be not afraid.”
The second temptation we face when going through enormous difficulty is more directly theological: we tend to assume that a loving God would not let us suffer.
There is perhaps no line of thinking more dangerous, more insidious, and more utterly unchristian than this one. The cry “Do you not care that I’m perishing?” becomes the accusation “I’m perishing and you don’t care,” which gives way to disavowal: “If there is a God, I don’t want anything to do with him. He is cruel.”
Where we get the idea that Christianity excludes suffering, I don’t rightly know. It likely comes mostly from our flesh, from our prideful idolization of comfort and pleasure. It comes somewhat from just plain ol’ crappy doctrine. It certainly does not come from the Bible.
The Cross Is Laid on Every Christian
In the story of the man whose house is built on the rock (Matt. 7:24–27), the firm foundation does not keep the storm away. In fact, according to the Scriptures, being a Christian means being willing to take on more suffering than the average person. Not only must we endure the same pains, stresses, and diseases of every other mortal, but we agree to take on the added burden of insults, hardships, and persecutions on account of our faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we em- bark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
The call to discipleship, in other words, is not an invitation for one of those popular Christian cruises. I can see the advertisement in the Christian magazine now:
Jesus! Shuffleboard! Seafood Buffet! Join Jesus Christ and twelve other influential teachers for seven luxurious days and six restful nights on the maiden voyage of our five-star, five- story ship of dreams, the S.S. Smooth Sailing. Enjoy karaoke with your favorite psalmists on the lido deck or splash your cares away in our indoor water park with a safe crowd of people who look just like you!
Instead, Jesus calls us into nasty crosswinds in a boat specifically designed to make us trust totally in him. And if the boat even appears to offer safety from the waves, Jesus may actually call us out of it and into the sea (Matt. 14:29). But in either place, he will be there with us, not to help us worry but to help us believe. Thus, it is imperative that we have our theology straight before we even get in the boat.
Jared C. Wilson (@jaredcwilson) is Becky’s husband and Macy and Grace’s daddy, and also the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont and the author of the books Gospel Wakefulness, Your Jesus is Too Safe, Abide, Seven Daily Sins, Gospel Deeps, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Story-Telling God. He blogs almost daily at The Gospel-Driven Church.
Excerpt taken from Jared Wilson, The Wonder-Working God, Crossway, ©2014. Used by permission. http://www.crossway.org