Reference: Mark 4:35-41
The American manager is often portrayed as frenetically busy, speaking into two phones at once while chairing a management meeting and barking orders to handle an unfolding crisis. It is the “John Wayne” image of a leader, one who personally charges the enemy ahead of his troops. In management studies, this is contrasted with the image of the Japanese manager, who has everything so well organized beforehand that he need not comment much at all, and would see it as a serious planning failure if a crisis interrupted a management meeting with a phone call. These are generalizations, of course, but perhaps with much truth embedded.
Many have an image of God as they would like him to be and it is something like a magnified version of the American manager above. He micro-manages life for them, directing traffic, dispensing full-service health care, leading victory for the nation, providing good jobs, good grades, good weather, good outcomes in all directions, slogging through crisis ahead of us.
And when life doesn’t go our way, many decide that they have misplaced their hopes in God, he either doesn’t exist or is simply the concept of an impersonal force or perhaps the Deist idea of a creator who has set everything in motion and no longer gets involved. How many times in crisis does the sentence start, “Why does God permit……?” The god who we would create would not permit any ill to come nigh us, would smite our enemies and shower blessings on us and our friends, would prevent sickness, evil, death, poverty, or problems of any kind.
Sometimes historical hindsight is helpful. Where today are the “God-protected armies of the Czar,” prayed for every Sunday for centuries in tens of thousands of churches across imperial Russia? Was God simply asleep when disaster struck those armies? It seemed so to many at the time. But from the perspective of today, the question is whether those armies would have made the world a better place by now. If you know the history of Russia, the answer is that it is unlikely, given the misery the imperial armies enforced. Even the crisis that followed eventually ended in a community of fervent Russian Christians, quite a contrast from their western European neighbors where the Faith has been abandoned by the majority. In short, we know neither the mind of God nor the way the future will unfold. Nor is a painless, problem-free existence necessarily conductive to a fervent and sanctified Christian life.
In the passage above from the Gospel of Mark, the disciples are upset with their Lord. He sleeps peacefully while the storm and waves threaten to swamp and sink their ship. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” It is the question put to God through the ages. “God forbid” that something bad should happen to you. But God doesn’t always forbid. Holocausts, famines, natural disasters, accidents, cancers, children ripped from their parents, and, yes, sometimes drownings and shipwreck, all manner of evil and adversity can and does happen.
In panic, they wake him up and he responds to their request, quieting the waves and wind. But then we hear the frustration in his voice, because they call him Teacher, but they haven’t learned the lesson. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
We live two millennia later, with the advantage of accumulated and collated divine wisdom passed through Scripture and Tradition. While we might envy those disciples for their direct personal experience with Jesus, we have a much better picture now of what it was all about than they did at the time.
Yet all those centuries of Christian insight passed through the generations to us have resulted in a culture of fear, almost paranoia among many. Fear drives our relationships in everything. Your computers, doors and windows, evening strolls, car alarms, workplace security, distrust of people that don’t look like you, right through an immense national defense system greater than the rest of the world combined all reflect fear.
Dogs, guns, alarms, guards, bright lights, sophisticated locks and passwords, security questions, gated housing, checkpoints and TSA, and much more all thrive as responses to fears. It is so pervasive that many cannot imagine a life without constant fear and the measures to cope with it.
No paranoid combination of measures can ultimately save us from the multiple disasters inherent in a life lived without reference to God. In a life lived only for self in a world where your only goal is to protect yourself and the people and stuff that is precious to you, the end is the shipwreck of death and the path is one of harm to the creation around you.
But the earth remains the Lord’s, as the Psalmist reminds us. And that which appears to the world as defeat, the Cross and Tomb, turns out to be the means of victory. The trust in the Lord who rises in love is the only way to eliminate the fear which infects those around us. “Perfect love casts out fear,” points out St. John (1 John 4:18). Perfect love is exactly what we are offered, as a free gift. The Lord sleeps because he knows he has solved the problem of our situation. Like the ideal Japanese-style manager, he can rest because he is confident of the outcome. Even though “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present,” says St. Paul, “if God is for us, who can be against us?”(Romans 8:22,31). Beyond all defenses, experiences, efforts, the only thing that really endures is trust in God.
The questions of Jesus still stand unanswered: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”