Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41
Your doctor informs you that you have cancer. Your wife tells you she has been seeing another man. Your husband tells you he’s found a younger woman and is going to marry her. You son announces that he has AIDS. Your employer tells you that your job as been outsourced and your services will no longer be needed. Any number of events can bring your life crashing down.
People of faith do not necessarily have trouble free and painless lives and people with little or no faith at all can be found living wonderful, prosperous, and problem free lives, or so it seems on the surface. Life’s blows come to us all no matter what things may seem like on the surface.
If you look deeply into the lives of the rich and famous you will find loss, pain, and suffering. Moreover, if you look into the lives of great men and women you will find that most of them rose above pain, loss, and suffering and because of that struggle they achieved greatness.
What happens within our hearts and souls when we find ourselves in the midst of life’s storms?
When I was younger my first questions in the face of loss and pain were: “Why me?” “Why is God punishing me?” If God is so good, why does He allow such things to happen to good people, to the innocent and undeserving? It’s the question many people ask.
Well intentioned people might tell you that God is testing you. But we should question that. Why would God need to test us since He already knows what is deep within our hearts and souls? And we need also to remember that God didn’t create us in order to watch us suffer! No, it is life that tests us. More specifically suffering is the consequence of human decisions that sometimes come crashing down upon us. Chaos, we must remember, isn’t necessarily the product of hurricanes, tornadoes, or other disasters of nature. And while it is true that we find chaos in our universe and in our world, the chaos that troubles and tests us the most comes from the decisions of other people. Sin isn’t simply personal. Often our sins have consequences that hurt others. But we never seem to realize that.
Some of us react by trying to get even with those whose decisions have caused us pain and sorrow. Essentially getting even involves using evil to overcome evil. That approach doesn’t work. Using evil to overcome evil only multiplies evil by two; it doesn’t divide it in half. It certainly doesn’t cancel evil out.
Other folks allow themselves to live in a state of victimhood. Too many people have spent their entire lives living in passive-aggressive victimhood. That approach does not work either. It does nothing to confront and overcome the evil intentions and decisions of those who have hurt us and caused us loss and pain. Passivity doesn’t confront those who make evil decisions that hurt others.
Eventually we all come to realize that we have little control over others and are virtually powerless over them. But that does not mean we are powerless over our own lives. We do have the power to control our responses to others who have brought chaos into our lives. In Jesus Christ, God has given us the power to confront and face down evil.
God created us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him. But to know, love, and serve God in meaningful ways we must freely choose to do so. Can you imagine being loved by someone who was programmed like a computer to love you? It wouldn’t be love at all, would it! So it is with God. He wants to be loved only by those who freely choose to love Him. But the consequence is that He must suffer the rejection of those who freely choose to reject Him. Freedom comes at a terrible cost.
God has suffered the consequences of evil human choices. He suffered them in the life of Jesus Christ here on earth. In Christ, God has faced all that we must face when life tests us with its cruel blows.
The Evil One, the devil, our Ancient Enemy, is known in the Bible as the Great Tempter. We recall that when Jesus began His public ministry He was tempted out in the desert by the devil. And Satan tempts us too, only with many different temptations. In life’s storms and troubles he tempts us first with disappointment. Disappointment leads to doubt. Doubt leads to disillusionment, followed thereafter by depression, defeat, despair, and eventually spiritual death. Satan’s seven “anti-sacraments” are doubt, disappointment, disillusionment, depression, defeat, despair and spiritual death.
Fear plays a big role in all of this. Notice how many times Jesus said to His disciples: “Fear not,” “Be not afraid,” “Peace be with you.” In the New Testament the opposite of faith is not questioning, it is fear. And fear can lead to doubt and all of those other “d” words I just mentioned that the devil uses to defeat us.
We often think of strength in terms of power and control. We are tempted to think that if we can overpower others we can control them. We think this makes us secure. Actually it only makes us feel like we are secure when in fact we are not. Security is found elsewhere. Security is not found in power and control over others. Our world’s greatest leaders have demonstrated that to us.
It is love that makes us secure. Without love we are terribly insecure. And love brings with it faith. If you have faith in someone you then can love him or her. If you love someone you have faith in him or her. It is when we are in the presence of Christ and we are aware of His love within us that we are truly secure.
Out there in that storm tossed boat we just heard about in today’s Gospel Jesus was teaching His disciples about where to find peace and security. They would have it so long as Jesus was at their side.
That is the lesson we need to learn; that is the truth that we need to see. God Himself comes to us in His Son Jesus Christ. God, with all of His powers, is with us when the forces of chaos descend upon us. He knows what we face because in Jesus Christ He, too, faced them and continues to face them in us.
So when life deals you its cruelties, its blows, its storms and your life seems to be collapsing all around you, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that God is punishing you, or testing you, or that He doesn’t care about you. He may be a lot closer to you than you think. You may even come to realize that He’s in the same boat with you. It is only in the power of faith and in the presence of Christ that we overcome all of life’s cruel trials.