All of us have to go through the storms of life. In the gospel, we read of the disciples who were battling the storm when they were in the boat. The storm referred to in the gospel is not just our own personal trials in life but of the Church as well. The boat that Jesus and the disciples were in is but a symbol of the primitive Church under siege during the apostolic time. Today, as Catholics, individually or as Church, we are also under attack on all sides by detractors and those who are opposed to the gospel. On top of all these, we also have to handle our own spiritual struggles as we deal with life’s challenges, whether at family, work, church or in our personal growth.
How do we deal with the storms of life? Firstly, we are told that often storms are unpredictable, as was the case with the disciples in the gospel. Quite often, we are not prepared for it. Every day, there will be challenging situations to grapple with – bad news about our work or health or our loved ones. Quite often, we feel helpless in dealing with the problems at hand.
Secondly, no matter how experienced we are, we might not be able to handle the storms. Most of us can handle professional matters well but we fail miserably when it comes to our personal matters, especially in relationships. Matters of the heart cannot be resolved by logic alone. That is why top professionals who are very successful in their careers are the greatest failures in their personal and family life.
Thirdly, some storms in life cannot be explained away. This was the case of Job in the first reading. He was struggling through the belief in his days that sinners were punished, and therefore if one suffered, it was because of some personal sin he or she has committed. But Job was a holy and just man. He knew he was innocent and he could not accept the judgement of his friends and loved ones that he sinned against the Lord and was therefore punished. In other words, he was confused at the justice or apparent injustice of God. Indeed, many of us labour under this principle that the just will always be rewarded and the evil are punished. Yet, often, we see evil people doing well in life and the good suffer. The consequence is anger and disappointment at the lack of justice in God.
Fourthly, in our storms we often feel that God does not care. He seems to be asleep, like a retired architect of the universe. That was how the disciples felt. “Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep.” And so “they woke him and said to him, ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’” Do you not care? This is the question utmost in our minds when we are struggling in life. If He does not care, then we take things into our own hands. If we cannot rely on God, then we better rely on ourselves. Why should we bother with such a God who does not care about our lives anyway?
But the truth is that He DOES care! This is the centrality of today’s scripture readings. He cares! He loves us! He is watching over us! Even when we cannot see Him at work in our lives! This is the testimony of millions who have been helped by God. The psalmist testified, “Some sailed to the sea in ships to trade on the mighty waters. These men have seen the Lord’s deeds, the wonders he does in the deep. For he spoke; he summoned the gale, tossing the waves of the sea up to heaven and back into the deep; their souls melted away in their distress.”
In truth, God is in charge of our lives. He has power over nature and over us. Even when we don’t understand how He is providing for us, we need to trust in His divine providence and wisdom. This is the hard lesson that Job learnt from his trials. He was challenging God with all his questions. But instead of answering his questions, the Lord answered by asking him instead. He said: “Who pent up the sea behind closed doors when it leapt tumultuous out of the womb, when I wrapped it in a robe of mist and made black clouds its swaddling bands; when I marked the bounds it was not to cross and made it fast with a bolted gate? Come thus far, I said, and no farther: here your proud waves shall break.” If we cannot understand the natural order and the creative power of the universe and the plan of God, how can we understand the moral order and His divine providence for us all in this world? In truth, we are ignorant!
For this reason, like Job in all humility, we must surrender everything to the Lord in faith. He has His reasons that we do not know, at least not now. All that is asked of us is to trust Him. Let God be God. We need to be patient and cling to God’s assurance of love. He will know when to help us. With Christ, there will be calmness. It seems that He does not care but He is in control. “And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again.” Indeed, all we need is faith in Him and in His love. In the storms we cannot see because we are blinded by fears, anxieties and ignorance. So only faith is needed to be able to see clearly and regain our confidence. Once we have faith in Him, we will experience calmness in the storm. This was what Jesus said to His perplexed disciples, “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?”
This is perhaps, the most important question we need to answer, “How is it that you have no faith?” How do we find faith in Jesus? We need to search ourselves as the disciples did, “They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’” Our faith is dependent on whether we know Jesus or not. We can only trust those who we know. Trust presupposes confidence in the person. Ultimately, it boils down to this question: Who is Jesus to us? Is He truly God? If He were not, then we have reason to continue to be fearful. But if Jesus were God and He is the One steering our boat and our ship, then we should feel secure that we are in good hands.
Do we know who He is? St Paul knew who Jesus was and hence he was not afraid of storms and persecutions. He had encountered His gracious love and mercy. He had seen how many times, the Lord rescued him from his enemies. But that did not mean that he was spared the trials of being persecuted, whipped, imprisoned, hungry, cold and pain. The Lord was with him and he was able to overcome and transcend all oppositions, including the hostility of his enemies. His confidence rested on his personal experience of the undeserving love he received from Christ. Thus, he wrote, “The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.”
Indeed, if we have experienced Christ’s love, then love destroys all fear. St John tells us “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:15-20) So long as we know He loves us, we can ride the storms of life. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:37-39)
And the truth is that Christ has died for us all! “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? “ (Rom 8:31f) On this basis, we must judge all things from the perspective of God’s love for us in Christ. This is what St Paul urges us, “From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.” We are a new creation, therefore, we must not read situations from eyes of fear which blind us! We must read with the eyes of Christ, of faith in His love.
With Christ, we can overcome all things, even death! With Christ, God will once again speak to us through the storms. “From the heart of the tempest the Lord gave Job his answer.” We will discover how wonderful that God is that through the storms of life, we discover not just about ourselves but the beauty of this God. So in all our trials, we must turn to the Lord in earnest prayer and we will be heard. “Then they cried to the Lord in their need and he rescued them from their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper: all the waves of the sea were hushed. They rejoiced because of the calm and he led them to the haven they desired.” With the psalmist, we can then say, “They rejoiced because of the calm and he led them to the haven they desired. Let them thank the Lord for his love, for the wonders he does for men.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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