One of the most treacherous of Minnesota’s 10,000+ lakes is Lake Mille Lacs. It’s a huge lake—over 200 square miles. But what makes it really dangerous is it’s shallow depth. Winds can wreak havoc on shallow waters. Storms can come up out of nowhere. Choppy waters become raging seas in a matter of moments. Often there’s not time to get to shore. Sometimes the wisest course of action is to turn into the chop and hope for the best. Every time we drove past Lake Mille Lacs my dad would say, “You don’t want to be out there when a storm comes up.” I imagine he’d say the same thing about the Sea of Galilee. I imagine he’d wonder what those disciples—seasoned fishermen all—were doing out on a lake like that in the dark of night. “Courting disaster,” my Dad would likely say.
But there they were. Out on the Sea of Galilee. Headed into unchartered waters. Heading into the unknown. Heading into a storm. No wonder the disciples were afraid. Their boat was about to be swamped. No wonder they woke Jesus up. They knew what they were in for. They needed all the help they could get.
I wonder what they expected of him. Do you think when they roused him they were expecting him to rebuke the wind and calm the sea? Do you think in their wildest dreams they imagined him saying to the raging waters, “Peace, be still”? Or were they looking for something more prosaic? A hand to help with the bailing or ballast in another part of the boat?
No wonder the disciples were terrified when the winds stopped and the waters ceased to rage. No wonder they asked themselves, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” No wonder they were filled with a great fear.
Think of where they were going. Think of the journey they were on. Think of the last stop.
They were crossing the waters. Crossing into the unknown. Crossing into the land of the Gentiles. Already there had been trouble. Jesus’ own family tried to restrain him. Already he was meeting opposition. Already those in power were challenging him. No wonder the disciples were filled with a great fear. Jesus was leading them into uncharted waters. In the face of the unknown, fear is a reasonable response.
Indeed, fear is often paired with encounters with God. It’s a natural response to the Holy. Isaiah knew that fear. And Samuel. And Moses. And Mary. And folks like you and me as well.
I often think of the words from the Letter to the Hebrews when I find myself following Jesus to places I would never go on my own. “It’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” says the author of that letter.
There is a place for fear in a life of faith. And there’s a place for faith in the midst of fear. Perhaps the two go hand in hand. Fear alerts you to danger. Fear invites you to interrogate the source of your fear. Fear can open the way to a deeper engagement with that that frightens you. Fear reminds you that you can’t go it alone. None of us can.
But fear unexamined and fear faced alone can be paralyzing. The fear takes over. You don’t know what to do. You don’t where to turn. The last place you think of turning is straight into the chop. So there you stay. Locked in the waves washing over you. Locked in unexamined fear. And yet, like small boats caught in a storm, the best place to turn is into the chop.
Jesus asks his disciples, Jesus asks us, to turn into the chop, to look at places in our lives where our fears hold us captive. I think that’s what the disciples were doing when they asked that question, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They were beginning to turn into the chop of their fear of the unknown; they were beginning to turn into the chop of life with Jesus.
No wonder they were filled with a great fear. He was leading them on a path into the unknown. He was leading them on a path that ends at the cross.
The author of the Letter to Hebrews wrote, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
No wonder Jesus asks the disciples, “Have you no faith?” Faith makes its possible to turn into the chop of fear. For with the eyes of faith we can see beyond the stormy seas. We can see beyond the cross to the reign of God.