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Storms Will Come [From a Faith Perspective —Bucks County Courier Times]

On a wall in my office hangs a reproduction of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt. The original was produced by the artist in 1633 and is one of my favorite pieces of art by one of my favorite painters. The original was actually stolen from a gallery in 1990 and remains missing. When a retiring colleague and friend offered me the copy from his office after hearing me speak on the passage which inspired it, I did not hesitate to accept. And now, I look at it every day and draw from the incisive reminder it provides: In life, storms will come, but we have choices in how to react. 

Rembrandt brings to life the dramatic scene recorded in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus and his disciples are crossing the sea of Galilee when a storm arises. The painting shows dark and ominous skies, raging wind, and waves tossing the craft like a cork. In the midst of the tempest, the disciples of Jesus are clearly gripped by fear and scrambling. Some are grasping at ropes; others are shrinking in horror. One appears to be violently ill over the side of the boat. Others are gathered around Jesus, who has been awakened from his sleep. Rembrandt’s brush strokes capture it all. It’s a familiar story to many. and it is often cited to encourage people to remember that Jesus has the power to calm the storms we face: When storms arise in the virtual boat of life, alert Jesus, and he will make them go away. But I think Jesus wanted the disciples to learn something bigger than that. 

The storm in Mark 4 is real and dangerous. The boat is filling with water. The disciples are afraid for their lives. In the midst of the chaos, Jesus is asleep on a cushion in the stern. He’s asleep! He was not reclining and pretending to rest so that he could teach the disciples a lesson. He is at peace on the stormy sea and sleeping. So the disciples do what any of us would’ve done: They wake him up. But they are indignant with him. They don’t ask him, “How can you be sleeping?” They don’t even ask him, “What should we do?” They ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” (4:38). There is criticism in this question, even judgment. It is motivated by fear. They are not coming to him in faith asking him for help or asking him what to do. They are angry and afraid. This is often how we respond to the storms of life. They catch us off-guard. They terrify us. We don’t know what to do. And we don’t want them to ruin us. This is perfectly human. The real and the metaphorical storms of life are certain to come, but the interaction between the disciples and Jesus on the Sea of Galilee is profoundly instructive and calls for faith.

In fact, that is the point of Jesus’ response to the disciples. His response to their indignation is “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (4:40). In this way, Jesus does not do what you or I might do with those who are terrified by a storm that has come upon them. We might want to comfort them: “Everything will be okay. It will be over soon.” “It’s only natural to be afraid and paralyzed by your fears.” Or even, “I will make it go away.” But Jesus says nothing like that. It would be easy to interpret his response to their indignation as harsh except that he is always loving. Even when he brings a strong word or reproof, Jesus is always loving. So we need to interpret what he did in that boat on that sea during that storm as an act of love. And not just the part where he actually calms the storm.

What is the perspective that Jesus is calling them to? I think there are three things the disciples missed. Three things I would’ve missed. Three things all of us sometimes miss in the midst of life’s storms. First, they are with Jesus. Second, Jesus doesn’t appear to be too worried about the storm. He’s asleep. And third, Jesus’ power has already been made known to them. Storms in life will come. But from a faith perspective, we face those storms differently. And this little vignette in Mark 4, so vividly reproduced by the gifted hands and mind of Rembrandt, speaks volumes to us. 

The article was originally published in the in-print issue of Bucks County Courier Times on June 16, 2024.


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