I’ve written before about some parts of the Bible are illuminated by references to other parts of the Bible that aren’t immediately obvious. In honour of the second week of the Big Read, here’s another one.
Mark 4: Jesus and the disciples are travelling across the Sea of Galilee when a violent storm blows up. The disciples are terrified which, considering a bunch of them were fishermen, is cause for concern. Jesus, meanwhile, is asleep.
Unsurprisingly, this does not fill them with confidence. “Wake up! Don ‘t you care that we’re all about to drown?!” they shout, but as he stirs, something far more disturbing is about to happen. Because with a couple of words, Jesus tells the storm to stop.
And it does.
And the disciples are terrified.
Part of it is down to the fact that, well, human beings just don’t command storms. In the thinking of the time, the sea was associated with a sort of primordial chaos, something for The gods (or, of course, God) to tame – which is presumably why, in Genesis 1, the Spirit of God hovers “over the waters”. The effortless nature of God’s commands here just serve to emphasise his sheer power.
So we’ve got Jesus commanding a storm. Now, when the Bible talks about storms, it’s normally as a metaphor for God’s power. Wind, rain and thunder is used to demonstrate the overwhelming strength that God can bring to bear. However, there are a couple of moments in which God is said to calm storms rather than unleash them.
The first is Psalm 107. This talks of Jewish merchants out on the seas, caught up in storms and crying out to God for help, whereupon God “stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.”
So when the disciples, terrified, ask “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”, the answer is implicit – God.
That realisation should lead to one main reaction, and we also see this in the story of Jonah. Jonah, running away from God, is on a ship that gets caught up in a violent storm. Realising that his disobedience is responsible for this, Jonah offers to be thrown overboard and, after some reluctance, the crew agree to this. Jonah is saved by a whale and the storm is stilled.
Here’s what’s interesting – the sailors, who have no real knowledge of Jonah’s God, see the storm calmed and are immediately awed by the power on display, so much so that they start worshipping God on the spot. You’ve got to wonder if some of that attitude is getting through to the disciples, especially as this story leads in to a bunch of episodes that show that Jesus has power over a range of forces, not just the natural world.
In short, this story is all about showing how Jesus has access to immense power. And yes, that’s awe-inspiring, but it should also be comforting. “Why are you so afraid?” he asks his terrified disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” Didn’t they realise that, not only was he in possession of power enough to calm a storm, but that he’d also use that power to help and save them?
For not only is God powerful enough to command wind and waves, he also loves his people enough to get rained upon with us.
(This post was inspired by the week’s reading for the Big Read 2012 – ‘Echoes’. More on this can be found at their website.)