Why Do You Doubt?

When you are examining a text from Scripture like the one before us today, that of the disciples afraid and confused in the midst of a storm on the sea, it is easy to make a connection to the storms of our own life. But I do not want to simply throw this out there as a tag line, the storms of your life. No, just saying it does not do them justice. For there are real storms, real struggles, real moments of terror, confusion, and fear which affect us in powerful ways. They shape our decisions and impact our families. They can turn our world upside down. And they are in no way universal, the storms you struggle with are not necessarily the storms she struggles with, and the way through them, the pathway forward might be strikingly different, with different time lengths, different foci, and different realizations. So, it is a big deal to confess that our God is a god who comes to us in the midst of the storm, a God who does not abandon you to the storms of your life. Often, that is not so clear, or easy to see, or simply to trust.  

Let us look at the text. Jesus is finally getting the time alone He desired ever since He heard about the death of John the Baptist. He sends His disciples off ahead of Him in a boat to the others side of the Sea of Galilee while He goes up a mountain to pray. Our text says, “When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” In the dark of the night the disciples are fighting against the storm. No doubt they are struggling and full of fear and worry. Even the experienced fishermen in their midst must have had moments when the thought crossed their minds that they may not make it. Then the text simply tells us that in the fourth watch of the night, which is right before the dawning of the new day, Jesus comes to them walking on water. It is all so matter of fact. Jesus comes to His disciples. He comes to them in the midst of the storm. He comes in the midst of their fears and doubts.  

Now, they react with fear, and that makes sense. No one expected to see a man walking on the sea in the midst of the storm. If Jesus just stands there, if He does not say anything, this would surely have been viewed as a bad omen, a sure sign they are doomed. But He does not just stand there. His presence is nothing without His words. And what does He say? “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” God has come. He has not come to stand against them but to rescue, to save. And here Peter makes a bold move. It is a move that has been interpreted as both a positive thing and a negative one. Some will say Peter demonstrates true faithfulness by getting out of the boat and walking on the water. This is used as an example of what disciples are supposed to do. The problem is, he takes his eyes off his Lord and so sinks into the sea. Yet, it can also be viewed negatively as a sort of testing of our Lord. “If it is You,” he says, “command me to come to You on the water.” In other words, he does not believe what Jesus says and demands proof. But the result is the same. Perhaps the best way to see Peter’s faith is that it was not the strongest in the boat or walking on the water, but when he sank into the sea. For there he gives the cry of everyone who has been overcome by the storms of life. Sinking amidst the stormy waters, he is completely lost and doomed. In that moment he cries out, “Lord, save me!”  

At this, our Lord, who came out on the water to save His disciples as they fought the storm, now reaches out without hesitation to the drowning Peter and saves him, but He does not praise Peter for his faithfulness. Jesus does not hold him up as an example of courage in the face of the storm. No, He says to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And that is the question, is it not? Why do you doubt? Think about that. You have doubts, especially in the storms of life. Why do you doubt?  

For one, doubts come because the storms of life are real. You have been given faith. You trust in the promises of Christ. You have heard the proclamation that you are forgiven. You are loved. You are heirs of eternal life. But this does not remove the sorrow and struggle from your life. There is pain, suffering, and profound sadness which afflicts you. There is death that takes those you love, those you patterned your life around, and without them you are lost and drifting. There are broken relationships, where love and compassion have turned to distance and unspoken anger. There is loneliness and heartache. The disciples of our Lord are not immune from depression and disappointment. We are well acquainted with regret. And these storms can cause us to doubt. We doubt the promises made. We doubt if they are really ours, if they are truly for us, because at times it really does not seem like it.  

The Old Testament reading for this Sunday comes from the end of the book of Job. It is the section where God finally speaks out of the whirlwind. Job has been challenging God, questioning Him, calling Him to answer His complaints. This section works as a sort of reminder of who God is, that He is all knowing and all present. He says, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” God is not a servant of Job. God is not at his beck and call. God is the creator of all things. Who is Job to question God? But think of what Job has been through. Consider the storms of his life. He has lost everything, tragedy upon tragedy. Even his friends turn against him as he sits in the ash-heap and scratches his open sores with bits of broken pottery. His doubts are not just rooted in pain and grief, they are rooted in a growing certainty that God is indifferent, does not care. God is absent.  

Why do you doubt? Well, we doubt because the storms of life are real. The pain is real. The fear is real. The second guessing if God even cares is real. And the doubts would win, they would be triumphant if it were not for the fact that our God is a god on the move. This whole text about the storm on the sea is ultimately about a God who comes to His own. He comes to them as they battle the storm. He grabs Peter’s hand as he sinks. He brings everyone back into the boat so they might safely make it to the other shore. The wind and the waves of this life are nothing to our God, for He is Lord over them all and He will not abandon you to their terrors.  

Jesus walks on the sea. He walks in the midst of the storm, and He comes to you even now. He comes in the waters of Holy Baptism. He comes to wash you and claim you as His own. In those waters you die and rise with Him. Which means the storms of this life cannot overcome you for the One who walks on the water dwells now within you. He comes to you in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. He comes to you to in the midst of the pain and the heartache to say, “I am here for you; you are not alone. Take and eat, take and drink, and know that the God who established the foundations of the earth loves you. He comes to you in the words of forgiveness found on the lips of brothers and sisters in Christ. He comes in those times when you hear a pastor say, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” He comes in those same words said after an argument or a failure to love, when you say to one another “I forgive you.”  

This is the coming of God in our midst. Here is the way we endure through the storms of life. He has brought you to this very moment, through the storms, the doubts, and fears of life, so you might know, once again, that you are loved. You have been covered in the blood of the Lamb. Forgiveness and salvation are yours today. This is the work of the Son of God, and this is His promise to you.