When God Sends the Wind and the Waves

Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633.

I love the painting of Jesus in the boat with His disciples during the storm. The artist captures both the terror of being in the storm and the serenity of Jesus sleeping. The disciples wrestle with waves and fears. One is even vomiting over the side. The painting is a favorite of mine because it reminds me of the part of the story that is outshined by the glorious conclusion. The part where everyone thought they were gonna die.

The story ends with Jesus speaking to the storm and the waves becoming glassy smooth. The disciples are bewildered and amazed. We rejoice in this part of the story because we see the glory of Jesus. Jesus is all powerful. He controls weather. He can stop or start a storm by His words alone. We can trust that Jesus can stop real storms, and we can also trust that Jesus can calm the storms in each of our lives. Whatever it is, a word from Jesus can put it in it’s place.

But back to the painting. I love it because it shows the disciples at the moment when they began to wonder if things were going to end badly. They haven’t really figured out Jesus yet, so we expect their responses to be fearful. And yet, they have seen Him perform miracles. Even so, they carry on. Attempting to manage the waves, and frustrated at the Man in the back who’s asleep.

Sometimes life feels like this. Your calendar seems like it’s shifting along with those same waves of the sea. Try as you may, you just can’t get it under control. Maybe it’s a relationship, maybe it’s a job, maybe your whole life is being tossed back and forth. The next thing you know your legs are weak and that wooziness starts to works it’s way up your spine.

If that’s you today, then consider that Jesus wasn’t surprised. Awaking in the boat to a squall was not alarming to Him. It alarms us because we don’t know the future and don’t know how it will turn out. But really, there is another reason it alarms us, and it has more to do with our trust in God. We believe that God allows trials into our lives. We even believe that God has good reasons. But sometimes we are unaware of how little we actually trust Him. C. S. Lewis says it like this,

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It’s easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” (Grief Observed, 22-23)

All through Scripture we see that God allows trials for His purposes. He desires to test us to see what is in our hearts. James tells us that these trials are God’s tools to perfect and sanctify us. But if God is all-knowing, why does He need to test us to see what is in our hearts? Lewis succinctly answers this question:

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In the trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” (51-52)

When Lewis penned these words he was in the midst of his own hurricane. His wife had died of cancer and he was walking the path of grief. His book is raw and real. At times he expresses strong and painful sentiments about the bitter trial of loss that he is living through. But he adjusts his focus at one point and this marks a shift in his perspective. “Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead” (36). At this point Lewis brings his ability to think to bear on the subject. Lewis discovers the purpose of this trial in his own life; it was meant to reveal the character of his belief in God. He needed to see it. God already knew it. The trial simply revealed it.

So, the stormy seas of a trial aren’t to test us so that God can see what is in us. He’s omniscient, He already knows. Rather, those waves are meant for us. To help us to see something about ourselves. How much we trust in something other than the Lord, for example. It’s one thing to trust God when life works. It’s another thing to trust God when life is being tossed back and forth by all those waves. But while you are bobbing up and down in your little dingy, set your mind on this truth: God sees you. He loves you. And he’s not surprised by what is happening. In fact, He might have sent the wind and the waves to help you to see where your trust really lies.

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