There is no greater message from God: He is here, with us—and he is trustworthy.
Given the turmoil of the past six months, these words are difficult for some to accept. Quarantines, social distancing, illness of friends and loved ones, loss of employment, financial instability, political and social unrest, and the death of thousands as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused much suffering. In the end, though, our lives are defined by the journey from shore to shore and the tumultuous storms we encounter along the way. The call of each Christian is to find just who travels with us inside of that boat.
The coronavirus has forced many throughout the world to ponder our own death and the possible death of our loved ones. Anxiety is on the rise due to a multitude of factors, and yet Christ invites us to a radical relationship and an ever-reliant trust. The story of our lives is a lifelong endeavor into the school of trust—which requires faith.
In his book, Faith, Hope, Love, Josef Pieper says that “to believe is equivalent to taking a position on the truth of a statement and on the actuality of the matter stated. More precisely, belief means that we think a statement true and consider the stated matter real, objectively existent.” Faith, then, is not merely “closing your eyes” and hoping that God is real and with us in times of suffering. Faith is the knowledge of God’s true presence in our lives.
The challenge for all of us, in all walks of life, in all times and places, is to find God in the midst of chaos—to not only look for him but truly see his gaze directed towards us during the rise of the tide. The key ingredient to finding God is realizing that he is always reaching out to us. This realization should help calm the stormy seas and provides insight into the life of faith we are invited into at each moment.
Each of the “synoptic” Gospels—Matthew 8:18-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25—contains an account of Jesus calming the storm at sea. In each passage, Jesus enters the boat with his disciples and then falls asleep. Then the storm comes. The Greek word used for “storm” here can also be translated as “earthquake,” and it is the same word used in several apocalyptic texts in the Bible. So this was a bad storm— in fact, it was life-threatening.
Yet Jesus is sound asleep. Mark gives us the detail that Jesus is sleeping on a “cushion” in the boat (see Mark 4:38). The cushion is reserved for the captain, the man who steers the ship. When facing suffering and possible death, it can seem that God is asleep at the wheel, nowhere to be found. But our faith assures us that he is always with us in our “boats” during turbulent seas. God remains in control.
Our challenge is to never overlook his presence and to always trust that he has us right where he wants us. When we ignore, deny, or reject God due to the storms we encounter in our lives, we are following in the spirit of the sin of Adam and Eve. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397; emphasis added). Adam and Eve failed to trust God and his goodness. We begin to think that God has deserted us; we no longer see him present in the midst of our suffering.
The temptation to despair is real. Jesus did not call his disciples’ faith “little” simply because they were afraid of the storm; he did so to challenge them to a deeper faith in him, a faith that trusts he is still at the helm of the ship when all seems lost. Love must rule the day rather than fear. Entering into the trust that love demands is a risk that we are all asked to take.
This week, let us allow our vision to see Jesus’ presence with us on our journey. Let us enter the school of trust with a deeply rooted knowledge that he walks with us, even when he seems asleep. Because Jesus’ love defines his motives, he is with us and he is trustworthy, no matter what it looks like out on the stormy seas.