|into the storm ahead by kirsten michelle (2010)|
One thing that many Christians I know have done a lot of (and I can say this because I am one, because I have heard this a lot, and because I have been so ingenious as to do it myself -- repeatedly) is take real life historical accounts from Scripture out of context and turn them into something entirely metaphorical. The flesh and blood people who lived these stories become mere characters, and the events that take place in these vignettes of their lives are symbols for us to interpret and apply as broadly and as personally as we like.
The story to which I am about to refer is a classic example, and arguably the most common story where this takes place. Here's the synopsis: Jesus is in a boat with his disciples, and a terrible storm comes up that is tossing the boat. The disciples are afraid for their lives. And what is Jesus doing? He is asleep in the back of the boat. Asleep, mind you. While everyone else is afraid of drowning. It's not like the disciples were sissies about this kind of thing. No doubt they had seen a few storms in their day. But this was no small storm. It was not just a few white caps slapping against the sides of the boat here and there. The Gospel of Mark says that the boat was "nearly swamped." And Jesus is asleep (now that is some kind of tired!).
So the disciples wake Jesus up and ask Him what He's going to do about it. After rebuking the wind and the waves, He rebukes the disciples. "Do you still have no faith?" He asks, to which the disciples respond, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"
What I have heard people say about this passage (and what I have written in the margins of this passage in the Bible I used during my teen and college years) is this: Jesus is in control of the storms of my life.
This makes me cringe now. The gospel writers had a purpose for including the stories that they did; there was something each piece of their respective accounts was meant to communicate. And I'm willing to bet my next paycheck that what Mark wanted his audience to know was not that Jesus is in charge of the storms of life, but that He is God, who has sovereign command over nature. In fact, I think the disciples' statement at the end perfectly communicates the point of that story: Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!
The boat is not a symbol for my life, and the wind and the waves do not represent trial and tribulation. To put it simply, they are exactly what they say they are. The wind and the waves the disciples were afraid of were (get this) actual wind and waves. And they were real people in a real boat on a real lake, and they were really afraid of literally drowning in real water.
And in the midst of that, it is demonstrated: Jesus has the ability to command nature. Jesus is really God.
None of this is to say that it's not true that our lives can become rather turbulent and stormy. And it's certainly not to say that Jesus, as God, doesn't have command over those things too. But if I go straight for the symbolic meaning, I miss the real, the concrete, the nitty-gritty reality. I miss the truth that I can sink my fingers into -- and, in fact, the very truth Mark wanted to communicate.
It may be difficult to tell in the picture above, but I was facing a sky that was brewing up a terrific storm. On our last night in Kansas, I got to experience one of the fantastic Midwestern storms I had only ever heard about. Thunder ripped and bellowed across the entire landscape and made the earth reverberate under my feet. Lightning flashed not in the dramatic forks that make for prize-winning photographs, but in broad flashes that lit up the entire sky so that for a brief moment, it was bright as day. Wind blew, and thick and heavy drops of rain pelted the earth.
I was in awe. My God has supreme reign even over all of this. There was something so magnificent and powerful about that display, and even more magnificent was the knowledge that He held this storm under His thumb.
With such power as this, surely He must have reign over all of nature, including something so tiny and magnificent as a baby with a broken heart. And even if He appears to be for the moment (metaphorically speaking, of course) "asleep in the boat of my life" -- not making a sound -- then perhaps I should act as the disciples should have in that moment. Trust Him, and have the faith that He will see us safe to the other side of the lake.