Sleeping in a Storm
How did Jesus do it while everyone else was fighting to stay afloat?
I recently peeked at a thought-provoking Facebook interchange. A few said they could sleep better if someone else was occupying the White House. Others disagreed. Those exchanges got me to thinking. Twelve U.S. Presidents—from Truman to Trump—have served during my lifetime. Six of them were Democrats, and six Republicans. Each faced a national or international crisis during his presidency. Somehow, America has survived each catastrophe—sometimes because of a president’s actions, at other times in spite of them.
Had I chosen to enjoin that Facebook debate, I would have confessed that I sleep soundly no matter who is in the White House during this coronavirus crisis or any other. Trump, Obama, Clinton, Reagan, JFK, or Willard Fillmore—it wouldn’t matter. My hope doesn’t come from the right or left, but from above. It matters not who sits in the Oval Office as much as it does Who sits on heaven’s throne.
We are in stormy seas right now. All hands are on deck, joining in a desperate attempt to keep the U.S.S. America afloat. As a follower of Jesus, I ought to ask how he would respond at such a moment. I need to look no further than the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark for my answer.
Jesus and his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee when they were caught in a violent storm. Monster breakers were swamping the boat and the disciples were fighting to stay afloat. It was a chaos of howling winds, crashing waves, cracking timbers, ripping canvas, and the yelling, shrieking, praying, and cussing of men on the edge of a watery grave. Yet, in spite of this cacophony of sound and fury, Jesus was curled up in the bow of the boat, sleeping. How are we to make sense of a sleeping Jesus when we are too busy fighting for our lives to sleep? Three thoughts:
The simplest one of all: Jesus was worn out. We forget that the divine Jesus who woke up and calmed the storm, was also fully human. He had just endured a long and demanding day: healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching to huge crowds. By the time he got into the boat, Jesus was so exhausted that he fell into a sleep so deep that not even a storm could awaken him.
Maybe we would sleep better if we wore ourselves out doing good for others. Instead, we often spend them in wasted worry about ourselves or doing everything we can to stay afloat. Jesus could sleep because he knew that his life was ultimately in the hands of his heavenly Father. If we trusted our God the way Jesus did, we too might sleep—even in the most chaotic of times.
A second thought: Jesus knows when it’s time to go into action. His disciples finally shook him awake and screamed, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” [Mark 4:38]. Jesus got up and shouted three words at the waves: “Quiet! Be still!” The seas became calm. Then Jesus rebuked his disciples: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” [Mark 4:40] Sometimes Jesus lets us exhaust all our energy until we have no choice but to cry out to him for help. Storms test our faith. They also build it. We fight all through the night, and then Jesus says three little words: “Quiet! Be still!” He’s not only speaking to the waves, but to the storms within our hearts that cause us to go into emotional overdrive: “Quiet! Be Still! I’m in the boat with you. I really do care whether or not you drown.” Listen carefully dear heart: can you hear him whispering those words to you?
A final word: God is on the throne of heaven. St. John was in a storm. A mad emperor had unleashed a persecution against Christians. The Church was mired in heresy and apostasy—on the brink of implosion. All the original apostles except John had been martyred, and now he was a prisoner on Patmos Island, part of the Roman gulag. On the Lord’s Day, heaven’s door was opened and he was ushered in to receive his great Revelation. The first thing he saw was a throne, and then Someone sitting on it. That’s the first thing we need to see: in the midst of chaos, Someone is in charge—and it isn’t the person in the White House. God isn’t running around, looking over the battlements of heaven at the apocalypse below, fretting and wringing his hands in anxiety. He is sitting—relaxed, and in control.
More than that, the One on the throne is acting. Heaven is a like a war room. Angels are dispatched to earth, trumpets blow, judgments are poured out on evildoers below, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride forth, nations rise and fall, kings come and go, and history moves inexorably onward to God’s appointed end. Around his throne is a glass sea—no turbulence, waves, or storms. Chaos may rage all around us, but when we come close to the throne, there is absolute peace. Like John, through the Holy Spirit, he can go through heaven’s open door and stand on that crystal sea in our Triune God’s presence—no matter how rough the seas get.
So, sleep well tonight. Jesus is with us in the boat. He will calm the storms when it is the right time to do so. But, though the winds howl and waves, you can have the peace of Jesus in your heart. When your kids and grandkids see that, it will be a Gospel Story lived out. And, when they ask why you are so calm during these days, you can tell them.
Dr. Bob Petterson