I just came back from officiating the wedding ceremony for my friend’s daughter. Now, pastors are often divided on whether they enjoy doing weddings. There are those who find them fun and happy deviations from the usual flow of things and there are those who would rather get a root canal than deal with one more slow photographer or overbearing mother of the bride. As for me, I have grown to really enjoy weddings. I have done big ones and small ones, ones at fancy venues or in the sanctuary of the church or even one out in the middle of the woods. The one I was at on Friday was beautiful. It was at a fancy venue and the ceremony and reception afterwards were an absolute blast. But what I really enjoy is the simple fact that weddings are full of emotions, full of care and passion and love and hope. Only the most cynical participant at a wedding is indifferent to the whole affair. Even if you do not really know the bride or groom, you will have some reaction to the whole event.
See, I think that one of the worst feelings that one can experience in life is to be faced with someone else’s complete lack of caring. As the famous writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel had said, “The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.” To know someone is on your side, that they care about you, that they would spring into action to protect you and defend your honor, that is a wonderful thing. That is the sort of comfort and encouragement we all long for in our lives. But even if we have detractors, those who stand against us, those who plot our demise or seek to frustrate our goals, at least they give us something. They work as a sort of foil against which we can better construct our goals and tactics as we try to put them into motion. In this way, both our fans and our haters are beneficial to us. And those who do not show any care at all, any passion on either side, they are the most concerning.
So, what do we do? What course of action do we take when we begin to suspect God Himself is indifferent? There was an incredible movie I watched many years ago called, “God on Trial.” It told the story of a trial held in one of the most brutal of the Nazi concentration camps. It was a rabbinical court in which they were trying to discover if God had broken His Covenant with His chosen people. It is a powerful movie, but along the way there is a greater fear which arises, that of a simple guilty verdict. What if it was not that God was against His people, but He simply did not care about them anymore? If God is indifferent to our suffering, indifferent to our trials and sorrows and heartaches, what then? Where can we turn?
For the reality is, if you have been a Christian for any length of time, you will encounter brothers and sisters in Christ who wonder if God cares. They wonder in the midst of their sorrows, in the moments when they cry out into the night in heartfelt anguish, in the times of confusion and fear, if God has simply turned His back on them. No doubt, for some of you, you have been in that moment yourself. Some of you may wonder about the care of God right now. Does He care about you? Does He hear your prayer? Does He intend to do anything, or will He simply allow you to flail about searching for answers while holding them all back from you? At some point the real fear creeps into your mind. What is the difference between an indifferent God and no God at all?
Jesus had been teaching beside the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd gathered around, and He began to enlighten their hearts and minds with His parables. They were Parables which painted pictures for them of the incredible, albeit strange, working of the Kingdom of God. The crowd grows so large, He climbs into a boat and pushes and little away from the shore. In this pulpit of sorts, He continues to unfold the mysteries for them. As evening was coming, He calls for His disciples to set sail for the others side of the sea. So, leaving the crowd on the shore they push away and head for the other shore. Jesus reclines on some cushions on the stern of the boat and falls asleep. As He sleeps, a great windstorm arises, and the waves begin to break over the bow of the boat. They are taking on so much water that they begin to be fear for their lives. These were not novice seamen; these were experienced fishermen. No doubt they had battled many a storm in the past. They surely had great stories of the wind and the waves and the time they almost drown, things they would laugh about down at the local pub. But this time it seemed worse. It seemed as if this was finally going to be the end of them. As the fear grips their hearts, as they are frustrated in any attempt to gain mastery of the storm and the sea, Jesus remains sound asleep.
So, what do they do? They wake Him up and say, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Do You not care? Because let us be honest, it seemed as if He did not care, as if He were not at all concerned about their plight. Well, our Lord seems a little upset by this. He gets up and rebukes the wind and the sea. He says, “Peace! Be still!” In my head this sounds like a dad waking up from a nap to yell at the kids for making too much noise. But we are told that at His word the wind ceased, the waves halt and there is a great clam upon the water. But He is not done rebuking. No, He does not just rebuke the storm, He also rebukes His fainthearted disciples. “Why are you so afraid?” He says, “Have you still no faith?”
Now, there is a lot playing out in this moment. As they all stand there in their boats in the middle of a calm sea, having just witnessed what He did, they are beginning to connect the dots. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” No doubt they would have many images rolling through their minds. They are, no doubt, familiar with the story of Job, the one who cried out over and again against a silent and seemingly indifferent God. And when God finally spoke to him from the whirlwind, He asks Job, “Where were you when I said to the sea… ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” God does not cater to Job. He is not governed by his fears or desires, but He is also not aloof. He is not indifferent to His creation.
Like Job, the response of the disciples to what our Lord does is fear and repentance. For they begin to realize just who it is that was asleep in the boat. This is no ordinary teacher of the faith. This is not just an extraordinary rabbi of the great tradition. No, this is something more. This is God Himself who stands in the boat. This is the author of creation, the One who controls the sea and the storm. And they just woke Him up to ask Him if He even cared about them.
Now, I do not think they completely understood the ramifications of all this. I do not think we can accurately grasp everything that is going on. But one thing is for sure, they know God is not indifferent. They know He is not just passing by without a care for them. For He was there. He was in the boat. He was in the storm. He was right there with them. Sure, He was not afraid of the storm, why would he be? He is the Lord of the storm. But He had not abandoned them. Even if they would have drowned that day they would have still been with their Lord.
Your God is with you. He is with you in your suffering, with you in your repentance, with you in your doubt. He gives the faith which clings to His Word. His Spirit cries out within your hearts. His promises ring in your ears. He cares. He cares enough to be born, to live in your flesh, to die in your place, and to rise for your hope. Such are the promises of your God, a God who gets right into the storm with you.