Tennis superstar Serena Williams announced earlier this month that she would retire sometime after the US Open, so her first-round victory last night captured headlines. However, a tennis event last week deserves attention as well: the US Open held a “Tennis Plays for Peace” exhibition to raise funds for Ukraine relief. Tennis luminaries such as Rafael Nadal, John McEnroe, and Coco Gauff participated. The event raised $1.2 million.
In other recent news, a firefighter playing in a semi-pro basketball game used his knowledge of CPR to save a referee who had collapsed from a heart attack. A stranger searched for days using a metal detector until he found a woman’s engagement ring lost in the ocean. A British mother who lost her teenage son to cardiac arrest has installed twenty defibrillators in their town.
And a university student has raised more than $159,000 in donations as of this morning to help him adopt a baby he found abandoned in a trash can while visiting his family in Haiti.
Measuring God by the evidence
When people act in benevolent ways, we feel better about human nature. When people act in hurtful ways, we feel worse about human nature. This is especially true when religious leaders make the news for the wrong reasons, as with Matt Chandler’s leave of absence from his Dallas area megachurch, an announcement that is still echoing in my community and across the evangelical world.
We tend to measure not just the people of God but God himself by the evidence. When he answers our prayers and otherwise acts in gracious ways toward us, we respond with worship and thanksgiving. But when he does not answer our prayers in the way we ask and acts in other ways we do not understand, we are prone to question his power, his love, and even his existence.
The skeptic Sam Harris claimed that the existence of a suffering child anywhere in the universe negates belief in an all-knowing, all-loving God. You and I would not go that far. We continue to pray and try to have faith. But when God seems silent or distant or even asleep in our crisis, it can be hard to keep trusting him.
So, let’s consider a time when God actually did fall asleep in a storm.
Facing a mega seismos
In Matthew 8, Jesus “gave orders to go over to the other side” of the Sea of Galilee (v. 18), then he “got into the boat, [and] his disciples followed him” (v. 23). Suddenly there “arose a great storm on the sea” (v. 24a); the Greek calls it a mega seismos, a “massive shaking.” The boat was being “swamped by the waves”—so much water was getting inside the boat that it could soon sink.
Where was Jesus in this crisis? “He was asleep” (v. 24b). So his disciples “went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing’” (v. 25). These veteran fishermen knew their very lives were in jeopardy and cried to Christ for help.
His response seems surprising: “He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’” (v. 26a). What did they do wrong? They were in the storm because they had followed Jesus at his command. He had taught them in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7). Their prayer was not superficial but heartfelt, sincere, and passionate.
The rest of the story gives us our answer: “Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (vv. 26b–27).
“You rule the raging of the sea”
The healing miracles Jesus’ disciples had seen him perform had been performed by others. However, prior to this event, no man had ever calmed a storm with only his words. Furthermore, the Jews considered calming storms to be the providence of God alone: “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them” (Psalm 89:9; cf. Psalm 46:1–3; Psalm 107:29).
So the disciples went to Jesus for what help he could give, hoping he might be able to do something but nonetheless “afraid” he could not (v. 26). And when he answered their prayer, they marveled at “what sort of man is this” (v. 27, my emphasis).
They did not yet know what we know. They did not know that he would be raised from the dead and ascend back to heaven. At this point, they apparently saw Jesus as other Jews saw the Messiah: an anointed person used greatly by God but nonetheless a man, not God.
In their Jewish monotheism, “the Lᴏʀᴅ is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). God could not be in heaven and on earth. Jesus could not be man and God. So, when he did what only God could do, “they marveled” at him.
They needed to learn what we need to remember: Jesus is God, and God is always enough.
“Who can drain a fountain?”
The storms of life can cause us to question the sufficiency of the God who allows them, but when we understand his providence the least is when we need his power the most.
When the crisis comes, we can turn from God because we do not understand his will, or we can trust that he knows what we do not (Isaiah 55:9) and will always act consistently with his perfect holiness (Revelation 4:8) and perfect love (1 John 4:8).
Then, the more we experience his power, the more we are transformed by gratitude for his grace. As A. W. Tozer paraphrased St. Bernard of Clairvaux: “The blacker the iniquity, the deeper the fall, the sweeter is the mercy of God who pardoned all.”
So trust the Savior who loved you enough to die for you, who is holding you in his hand right now (John 10:28) and praying for you at this very moment (Romans 8:34). And believe that this God is enough.
Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The cattle on a thousand hills will suffice for our most hungry feeding, and the granaries of heaven are not likely to be emptied by our eating. If Christ were only a cistern, we might soon exhaust his fulness, but who can drain a fountain? Myriads of spirits have drawn their supplies from him, and not one of them has murmured at the scantiness of his resources.”
He added: “A fish can more easily drink the oceans dry than we can ever exhaust the love of God in heaven. Drink away, little fish, you’ll never drink it all dry!”
What storm are you fighting today?