Jesus has just finished teaching about responding to the Gospel in belief and repentance. He has taught how this response relates to those who are inside and outside the Kingdom of God. And lest we forget who this is who is saying these things, there is one final story in the context in Mark 4:35-41.
After spending the day teaching, they set out on the Sea of Galilee to cross to the other side in the evening. As they are sailing across, a storm blows up suddenly, which happens in the Sea of Galilee, and it was so violent that it started filling the boat with water.There is a contrast in verse 37 to Jesus sleeping in verse 38 that is almost humorous if you think about the situation. So they wake Jesus up, and ask him a question that all of us will probably eventually ask God if we haven’t already: “Don’t you care?!” They say “don’t you care that we are perishing?”
Don’t you care that I can’t pay my bills? Don’t you care that I’m sick? Don’t you care that someone I love has died? God, Don’t you care about what I’m going through?! This is not a new question for God, so we have it recorded here in Scripture so we know we aren’t alone in asking it. This is an important question that we have to answer. Does he care or doesn’t he? This is where the depth of our theology intersects with human suffering. All of a sudden God isn’t just an abstract idea anymore but someone who can affect my circumstances if he wants to. Remember, Jesus’ message is that God’s kingdom has come. He can help me if he wants to, but if he doesn’t want to, why not? These are tough questions.
Does God care about our suffering? Let’s think about it. If God didn’t let bad things happen to people to he loves, then only good things would happen to people he loves. Then, since bad things happen to everyone this means God would love no one. This is where many people stop, so they reject God and believe that either there is no God, or if there is one he certainly doesn’t care about me, and if he does care about me, he’s mad at me. Bad things do happen to everyone, even the billionaire who invented Red Bull died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 89. Bad things happen to billionaires, bad thing to happen to people in poverty. We can either stop there, or we can keep going. I want to keep going.
By definition, what makes God, God, is that he is all-powerful among other things. If God is not all-powerful then he is not God. If he is all-powerful, he must be stronger than our circumstances. Since God is God, his love is expressed and enacted in ways that are greater and more profound than our understanding of why good or bad things happen to good or bad people. If you have a God to be mad at for causing your suffering or sorrow, then you also have a God who understands things that you possibly cannot and loves you more than you can possibly know. We can’t have it both ways. If God caused it, he is strong enough and loving enough to have his reasons. If he’s not strong enough or loving enough, then he couldn’t do anything about it, and this is not the God of Christianity, but a mere idol. We are either at the mercy of the storm, or in the hands of an all-powerful, all-loving God.
So our premise that God won’t let his people go through peril and suffering is wrong. It’s bad theology. Good theology understands that God can let bad things happen to people he loves because he is God and he has loving purposes that are greater than even our suffering. So in the midst of our suffering, no matter how horrible, we cannot doubt that God loves us and cares deeply for us. This is why the Bible says, “cast all your anxiety on him, for he cares for you”.
We may not understand our suffering, and we might even be angry at God for allowing it, but we cannot think that he doesn’t care for us in infinite ways that we will spend eternity with him learning. Those who reject belief in God, are forced to be victims of Nature. Nature is going to wear you down and destroy you, it doesn’t love you. We will all fall victim to tragedy, or illness, or the wearing down of the body in old age. Nature is violent, overwhelming and unmanageable. We can fight against it, but we cannot endure forever. Jesus also lets things happen to us we don’t understand. He allows or even causes Nature to exact a toll on us. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. There is a crucial difference though. Nature is indifferent to humanity, Jesus is filled with love for us. He is great enough to have reasons to make us endure tragedy and trial even if we don’t know those reasons. Of course this is not simply an exercise in reasoning, this truth of God’s love for us even in suffering must be believed and we must feel it within us, it’s not just a matter of being convinced.
(Tim Keller’s book “The King’s Cross” was instrumental in helping me think through these things in light of this passage, I highly recommend it.)
So the disciples ask him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” And Jesus responds. Jesus speaks to the storm like you speak to a belligerent child. He says, “Enough” or “Stop” or “Quiet”. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t perform an incantation. He simply speaks, and like a compliant child, the storm obeys, and everything is calm. Then he asks them a question, “have you still no faith?” or “do you still have no faith?” They hadn’t yet understood that this man preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God was the King himself. This is what his parables were about. When the one who created the wind and waves commanded them, they obeyed. A few weeks ago we looked at Jesus teaching about the Sabbath day and saw that as it relates to Sabbath, Jesus says, “I don’t just instruct you to rest, I am rest.”Here he says, “I don’t just display power, I am power”. They were afraid of the storm, but now they are terrified of Jesus. And the disciples respond by asking one another, “Who is this?”
And we are left with this question for ourselves as well. Who is this Jesus to us? To you? to me? Is Jesus really the King who is bringing his Kingdom and one day, perhaps soon, it will come in all of its fullness and completion. Who is this Jesus? Is he the all-powerful, all-loving God who rules over our joy and our suffering? If not, who is he then? Don’t reject or accuse him, believe and follow him. We rest in his strength and in his love for both today and for the future. Will you follow him?